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K.C.-based Mexican restaurant coming to old Carlos O'Kelly's spot; food truck battle may be brewing; study finds Lawrence not very average


In March, when I delivered the sad news of the closing of Carlos O’Kelly’s on 23rd Street, we left my lovely wife soaking in a vat of cheese sauce and repeatedly whispering “Vaya con Dios, Suiza con Pollo.” Well, I may soon be able to put the vat to other uses. No, Carlos O’Kelly’s isn’t coming back, but a Kansas City-based Mexican restaurant is moving in.

Permits have been filed at Lawrence City Hall for Mi Ranchito to take over the spot at 707 W. 23rd St. It also looks like remodeling work has begun at the site. I’ve got a call into the company’s corporate offices in Lenexa to get more information, but at the moment, I’ll just have to describe the restaurant based on my vast knowledge of the Spanish language. Obviously it will be a ranch-themed venture combining the influences of World Cup soccer star Mia Hamm and O.J. Simpson judge Lance Ito.

Actually, I’m told that is not correct and that we have changed decades. I’m sure many of you already have been to a Mi Ranchito. According to the company’s website, Mi Ranchito opened its first restaurant in 2004 in Olathe and has grown to six locations including in Lenexa, Overland Park and Gladstone. It looks like the Lawrence location will be its first outside the Kansas City metro.

According to its online menu, it looks like the restaurant will have a large offering of Mexican dishes — combination platters, fajitas, burritos, shrimp tacos, guacamole, and of course, salads served in the only respectable type of salad bowl, a crispy flour tortilla bowl.

When I hear back from the company, I’ll pass along more details about when the restaurants plans to open and other such details.

In other news and notes from around town:

• While were on the subject of restaurants, I’m hearing that some restaurant owners will find their way to Lawrence City Hall next week to debate the proposal related to loosening the regulations for food truck operations. As we previously reported, the city is considering removing the restriction that a food truck can operate for no more three hours at any one location. The new proposal would allow food trucks to operate an unlimited number of hours in properly zoned, private parking lots, as long as they meet some basic site guidelines. Commissioners earlier in the month delayed action on the new regulations, in part because Commissioner Bob Schumm said he thought traditional brick-and-mortar restaurant owners may have some concerns once they became more familiar with the proposal. Schumm told me he has indeed heard from several restaurant owners, so we’ll see what type of debate ensues. The food truck regulations are tentatively scheduled to be heard at Tuesday’s City Commission meeting.

• It would seem that Mexican restaurants and food truck battles would make us a typical All-American city, but a new study says that Lawrence isn’t all that typical when compared to other American metro areas.

The financial website WalletHub.com has put out a new study that tries to examine how each major metro area compares to the national average. In other words, the study looks at the national average of things such as age, race, income, and education, and then tries to determine which metro areas are most and least similar to the averages.

Lawrence lands on the list of cities that aren’t much like America as a whole. Lawrence was ranked No. 351 out of 366 metro areas. In other words, 350 other communities were closer to the “average American community” than we were.

But that may not be all that bad. One of the big reasons that Lawrence doesn’t stack up with an average community is because the education levels of Lawrence residents are much higher than the national average. Using Census data, the study found that the average educational attainment level of Lawrence residents was well above the national average. In fact, only three metro areas — Provo, Utah; Ithaca, N.Y.; and Boulder, Colo. — were found to have average education levels higher than Lawrence’s. That’s no surprise. Local leaders for more than a decade have been touting Lawrence as one of the more highly educated communities in the country. We have lots of people with advanced degrees and we call lots of them “professor.”

The more interesting finding to me is the data that shows just how young Lawrence’s population is. Obviously, college communities are going to be younger than the average American community, but Lawrence is really young even for a college town. Only Provo was younger than Lawrence. I had seen statistics that had suggested that before. (Hey, I’m a journalist in a very smart town, so I obviously spend all my free time looking at statistics.) I’m not sure what to make of that. I think we perhaps would like to not be ranked quite that young in the future. If our average age could rise a little bit, I think that would be an indication that we’re doing a better job of keeping graduates in our community rather than watching their considerable brain power leave directly upon graduation.

The study found Lawrence also has a really low housing tenure compared to the national average, which is just another way of saying people move a lot in Lawrence.

Interestingly, the study found that a very close cousin of ours appears to be Manhattan. Lawrence ranked No. 351 on the list and Manhattan ranked No. 350. Demographically, we’re pretty similar.

Kansas City is the nearby community that is most like the average. It's No. 23 on the list, and scores particularly high in having a racial make-up that is most like the American average. It is No. 4 in that category. Wichita also scores high on the list of being an average American place. (That makes sense. Every average community has the one of the world’s 10 wealthiest men.) Wichita ranked No. 36 on the list. Topeka ranked No. 113.

The community that is most unlike the average American city is McAllen, Texas. I don’t know anything about McAllen, but our good friend Boulder, Colo., was next in line for being most unlike an average American city.

As far as which city is most like the average American place, that would be . . . Nashville, Tenn. As a viewer of the popular primetime soap opera “Nashville,” I find that very reassuring. Surely this means you’ll soon all join me in my fashion choice of wearing cowboy boots everyday, and we all can meet at a cafe with our guitars, write four hit songs in an hour, and then go back to flying around the country on our private jets. Average is going to be great.


Mike Silverman 3 years, 9 months ago

I can't think of a single good argument against the proposed new food truck regulations that don't basically boil down to "I am afraid of competition"-style protectionism.

Clark Coan 3 years, 9 months ago

I agree with Schumm: the food trucks don't have to pay real estate taxes, so they get an unfair advantage.

Mike Silverman 3 years, 9 months ago

Because they don't have real estate. Real estate taxes aren't a restaurant thing, they are a real estate thing. Door-to-door sales operations don't have to pay real estate taxes either, should they be made illegal because it's unfair to retail stores?

Amy Varoli Elliott 3 years, 9 months ago

the restaurants don't have to pay for gas, have far more storage space, tables to protect from the elements and AC, I think they have an unfair advantage

Garth Atchison 3 years, 9 months ago

They also have limited hours they can operate, have to pay someone for a place to prep, pay for the place to park, buy the truck which isn't cheap, follow food code, and offer something that other establishments don't. The unfair advantage is using your wealth and connections to deny someone a fair chance to be a part of the equation.

Rick Masters 3 years, 9 months ago

Oh, Eeyore. Please try and have a good rest-of-the-day.

James Howlette 3 years, 9 months ago

The parking lot they rent space on when they're in operation pays real estate taxes and presumably passes that cost on to the food truck when they negotiate fees.

So no, no unfair advantage unless it's the same unfair advantage brick and mortar stores have when they rent their space instead of owning it.

Jonathan Fox 3 years, 9 months ago

I'm more worried about how or even if these trucks are inspected. Restaurants are regularly inspected, are food trucks under the same health codes and inspections?

Amy Varoli Elliott 3 years, 9 months ago

in most states yes, but they are checked more frequently

Tom Thomson 3 years, 9 months ago

Can't wait for Mi Ranchito! Love visiting their location on 95th St. by the Costco.. Will certainly be one of their first customers.

Mike Edson 3 years, 9 months ago

Wasn't Mi Ranchito the restaurant that had a disgruntled employee put rat poison in the salsa and it made 43 people terribly ill a few years back?

Jim Schilling 3 years, 9 months ago

Food trucks would be under the same regulations that brick and mortar restaurants are including inspections through KS Dept of Agriculture. The advantage for food trucks is that they have lower operating costs, but their check average is lower as well, 5-8 dollars instead of 9-12 dollars. Food trucks are harder than one might think because you need fast food service speed and prices but you better be serving products that are a step up from fast food. Food trucks aren't cheap to start-up either. A competitive truck with flexible capabilities, new, will average in the 250,000 dollar range, sometimes much higher. Less expensive, generally, than a large restaurant but again their sales success comes from getting high volume whenever operating.
To me, it would be hard to successfully operate a food truck as a stand alone in Lawrence with it being a small market unless there were not many in competition with you. I would think that an established restaurant would be interested in the idea if they have the capital to start it.

Wayne Kerr 3 years, 9 months ago

You make some good points, but an average food truck doesn't cost $250,000. Just do a search on ebay for food trucks. They start around $25,000 and go for about $100,000 on the high end. So the average is probably more likely to be around $60,000-70,000. That's a heck of a lot cheap than it would be for a new restaurant to open and rent a space downtown.

Jim Schilling 3 years, 9 months ago

To be fair I did say new food truck. No used truck is turn key ready either, there will be an additional investment involved on top of the purchase cost for re-branding, new equipment, and all the costs associated with starting the business. I've developed a business plan to start a truck for my employer (I've been in the F&B business for 20+years) and we weren't getting it done for less than 250k from concept to serving.

Wayne Kerr 3 years, 9 months ago

True, you could spend $250,000 on a new truck. I don't buy much new stuff these days and always look for the lightly used 2nd hand items to save money. You might reconsider going used and just update the truck with new paint, etc., and go from there. With a budget of $250,000 you could probably buy two really nice used trucks.

Jim Schilling 3 years, 9 months ago

That's definitely true. If it were my money that would be the route I'd go.

Jim Schilling 3 years, 9 months ago

It is worth noting that we did not do the truck based on that investment amount. That's another reason it might be feasible for a local restaurant to do one. They already have their concept and could search for a used truck that is equipped very close to what they'd need and, like you said, just need to update with new paint and any equipment refurbishing if needed.

Juan Brown 3 years, 9 months ago

Food trucks have actually been proven to be CLEANER than restaurants generally because they have such a small area for food prep, it's much easier to clean. This is the new norm and either restaurants will survive or they will die. Free-market capitalism at its best for all those whining about some tax issue. I know, I know, taxes are always the culprit.

Richard Heckler 3 years, 9 months ago

I would not place to much stock in these "studies" regarding the most freaky,unlike America,quirky, well educated , most favorite city and blah blah blah.

I would pay more attention to how the city overloads the food service markets no matter that the number of available dollars goes unchanged. Then again this may indicate just how bad the USA job market has become.

My best guess is these "food trucks" pay way better than unemployment and food stamps ……… so long as the operator is the sole proprietor. A coffee "food truck" would likely be one hot tamale during AM and PM hours.

BTW has the Fritzel that was fined $50,000 ever paid that?. If so how and when?

Dave Greenbaum 3 years, 9 months ago

Wait, I'm confused, aren't we trying to grow businesses here in Lawrence and Douglas County?


So economic development is good expect when it's bad? Lower operating costs are bad? Quite an interesting mixed message we're sending here in Larrytown.

Richard Heckler 3 years, 9 months ago

Depends on the source of the venture capital??

Forget taxpayers as the funding source.

Kendra Stevenson 3 years, 9 months ago

I am so excited to hear that Mi Rachito is coming to Lawrence! I have to say it is probably one of my favorite Mexican restaurants in KC and every time I ask when they are going to open one up in Lawrence! Yes they did have the situation a few years back with the waitress poisoning the salsa, but that has long since been taken care of and could honestly happen at any restaurant.

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