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Town Talk: New West Lawrence restaurant aims to bring Chipotle concept to Italian food; UPDATE PetSmart files plans for Lawrence store

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UPDATE: Plans have been filed at City Hall for PetSmart to move into vacant space next to the recently opened Dick's Sporting Goods Store at 27th and Iowa streets.

Drawings show the national retailer taking the southern portion of the large building, which used to house Sears. The plans also show a small expansion of about 800 square feet to the building. In addition, plans call for a new 8,000 square foot building in the southeast corner of the parking lot. The drawings show a 4,000 square foot restaurant in part of the building and 4,000 square foot retailer in the other part. No tenant names are given, but previously documents were filed that indicated Chick fil A had at least preliminary interest in the site, although I haven't heard whether that interest has remained strong.

Phoenix-based PetSmart operates about 1,300 stores across the country, selling everything from small pets to pet food, grooming and health care supplies.

I haven't yet gotten a hold of the Wichita-based development group that owns the site at 27th and Iowa, but as I get more details about their development plans, I'll pass them along.

There's not only a new restaurant coming to West Lawrence, but a whole new restaurant concept. Get ready for Italian meets Chipotle.

Dan Blomgren, who for 20 years owned the Lawrence Cork & Barrel liquor stores, is opening up Cibo Sano Italian Grill in the space formerly occupied by Quiznos near Sixth and Wakarusa.

So, what does Italian meets Chipotle look like? (I don't know why, but I keep picturing The Godfather with a Chihuahua.) Blomgrem's vision is this: Instead of a flour tortilla, you start with thin flatbread that can be rolled. Instead of rice, you get orzo pasta. Instead of your traditional Mexican-style beans, you get a choice of cannellini beans or Italian black beans. When it comes to your protein, Cibo Sano (which is Italian for "healthy food") will offer a choice of salmon, grilled chicken, steak or Italian sausage. (I knew my cardiologist was a quack when he tried to convince me sausage wasn't healthy. He even showed me pictures of my arteries. Whatever, like they can take pictures of your arteries.) Instead of salsas, the restaurant will offer a choice of an Italian sauce: marinara, spicy marinara or Alfredo sauce. Instead of sour cream and such, the restaurant will offer pestos, and toppings will include items such as squash, zucchini, artichoke hearts, pancetta, olives, feta, Parmigiano-Reggiano and other Italian staples.

Just like Chipotle, Cibo Sano will offer its creations in salad or bowl form, for those who don't want the wrap.

Blomgren began making the Italian flatbread creations in his family's kitchen after he sold the liquor stores about five years ago. He came up with the concept for a restaurant about three years ago, but said he wanted to wait for the economy to improve. Now, he said, the timing is right.

"We'll be priced competitively with Chipotle," Blomgren said. "It will be inexpensive, quick service, but the most important thing is that the food is really good. The concept isn't anything that is around here. I think people will really like it."

The restaurant will serve a selection of wine and beers, but won't have a full bar. Look for the restaurant to open in mid-July, Blomgren said.

In other news and notes from around town:

• I suppose if you really want to be "healthy," you could do what the witch doctors call "exercise." (They're the ones telling me to run on a machine that keeps me in one spot, yet I'm the crazy one? Sure.) Regardless, there is news on the exercise front at the new Lawrence recreation center at Rock Chalk Park.

When I was touring the facility earlier this week, I learned that the fitness and weight rooms will be controlled by a key card system. That will be a first for a Lawrence Parks and Recreation facility. My understanding is that when you go to use the fitness and weight room at the Rock Chalk center, you'll fill out some paperwork and be issued a key card. That's similar to what happens at a private athletic club.

But unlike a private athletic club, the city won't charge you a membership fee for the card. Parks and recreation officials I talked with said they wanted to be clear that the card idea isn't a precursor to charging a fee to use the facilities. Instead, the card idea came about because the Rock Chalk center is expected to attract a lot of out-of-town visitors who will be there for youth sports tournaments.

City officials are sensitive to the possibility that out-of-town visitors may flood the fitness areas during down times in the tournaments, leaving Lawrence taxpayers forced to wait for workout equipment. Thus, the key card system. One detail to watch for as this system evolves is who will be able to sign up for the free key-card. Will it only be Lawrence residents? Douglas County residents? What about people who live in nearby Tonganoxie but work in Lawrence? I didn't get many details on that part of the system, so I'll check back in on it. But it will be interesting because the center largely is being paid for through sales tax dollars, which of course, are paid by both residents and nonresidents alike.

• As for exercise today, I'm all over it. I'm stretching both my arteries and my stomach. Come out and see me tomorrow when I'll be serving as a judge for both a barbecue contest and a pie contest. It is part of a charity event to benefit the Toys for Tots program and the Lawrence Police Blue Santa program, which helps families in need. The event is called Fire in the Hole BBQ, and the judging will begin around noon on Saturday in the parking lot of The Eagles club, 1803 W. Sixth Street. The public can buy a barbecue lunch for $10 for adults or $5 for children. Pie from the pie contest also will be available for purchase. Kelly Driscoll, chair of the event, tells me that 11 barbecue teams cooking pork, brisket, chicken and a side dish have signed up to participate. In past years, the event — which has a lot of Lawrence police officers and firefighters as volunteers — has raised about $7,000 for the charities.

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  • Comments

    Scott Quenette 4 months, 1 week ago

    The nearly exact same concept was started in Columbus, Ohio about 2 years ago. It was called Piada Street Food. I knew what you were talking about when I read the headline. For anyone who has experienced that, it's not original.

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    Curtis Lange 4 months, 1 week ago

    The article never really said it was. The owner is even quoted of saying, "The concept isn't anything that is around here." Personally, I read that as there are other restaurants around like this...but none like it in the Lawrence/KC/Topeka area.

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    Scott Quenette 4 months, 1 week ago

    "Blomgren began making the Italian flatbread creations in his family's kitchen after he sold the liquor stores about five years ago. He came up with the concept for a restaurant about three years ago,"

    Describing it as a new concept?

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    Bob Smith 4 months, 1 week ago

    Getting a lot of mediocre food cheaply is a concept to be duplicated?

    4

    Wayne Kerr 4 months, 1 week ago

    No Bob, the idea is to bring the back of the house or kitchen to the front of the house. So instead of a server taking your order and delivering it to the kitchen, the person taking your order is also the one making your food. It simplifies the system and makes things run faster, so it's more like an assembly line. It sounds to me like they're going to have some really good food without the wait you'd normally have at a traditional Italian restaurant.

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    Lane Signal 4 months, 1 week ago

    It sounds pretty good to me. Sometimes you want something fast and easy. If they can keep the quality of ingredients high, I think it will be a raging success. If they cheap out on ingredients, I don't see it lasting in that location. I'm willing to pay a little more for higher quality meats, cheeses, breads and good fresh veg. Sauces will be an issue as well. If they are canned or prefab, I can't see them being worth eating. If it's all fresh and high end deli quality (or close), I like the idea very much. Cheap Italian food is easy to come by but most of it is pretty horrible. I have some optimism that this place will be different. We'll have to wait and see.

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    Richard Heckler 4 months, 1 week ago

    For the vegetarian and/or more protein crowd Central Soy Tofu will be on the menu. Heart healthy,Gluten Free, GMO free and a source of cholesterol free protein. A local source that which supports the local organic soybean supply.

    2

    Bob Forer 4 months, 1 week ago

    Does the concept include hiring Italian employees to project a false perception of "authenticity?"

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