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Carlos O'Kelly's closes Lawrence location; city set to put more bite into weed ordinance

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When I was courting my lovely wife, I quickly realized that a dinner at Carlos O'Kelly's Mexican restaurant worked even better than roses for getting out of a jam. In other words, we ate there a lot. The Suiza con Pollo — a brick of cream cheese wrapped in a burrito with some chicken — saved me many of times.

Well, those are just memories now. According to a company spokesman and a sign on the door, the Carlos O'Kelly's Mexican restaurant at 707 W. 23rd St. has closed.

I got a phone call at the house last night giving me a tip about the closing, and I was a bit apprehensive to pass the news on to my wife. But she took it pretty well. I think I heard her whisper "Vaya con Dios, Suiza con Pollo." And then I think she soaked in a vat of cheese sauce.

The closing does end a longtime restaurant in Lawrence. The restaurant had been in Lawrence for nearly 26 years. The restaurant is a regional chain that dates back to 1981. A company spokesman told me this morning that 17 restaurants were closed yesterday. The only two in Kansas were in Lawrence and Hays. The company now has 22 locations in six states. The closest to Lawrence is in Topeka. Gift cards can be redeemed at that location or any other Carlos O'Kelly. Or, the spokesman said, the company will offer a refund. Customers need to call 316-978-9509 to inquire about the refund.

The Mexican restaurant industry has become pretty competitive in Lawrence over the past several years. Dave Phillips, director of restaurant marketing for the Wichita-based chain, told me the decision to close the stores came down to economics. But in Lawrence, he said, it wasn't just about the increased amount of competition.

"When we built nearly 30 years ago, we built on the east side of town, which we thought was an intelligent choice," Phillips said. "We thought the town was more likely to grow toward Kansas City than toward Topeka. But we were wrong. The volume of business just hasn't been enough."

But Carlos O'Kelly's hung in there well, which doesn't surprise me. (I never knew the complete backstory on the namesake Carlos O'Kelly, but with that unique Mexican/Irish heritage, I always figured he was tough. You try wearing a green sombrero on St. Patrick's Day, muchacho.)

The closing does leave a large and pretty visible location along 23rd Street vacant. According to property records at the Douglas County courthouse, the Lawrence location is owned by the Rolph family, which is the founder and operator of Carols O'Kelly's. Phillips said there were no plans yet to fill the location.

In other news and notes from around town:

• Perhaps some of you saw national news stories yesterday about a Supreme Court ruling that puts in jeopardy thousands of miles of rail-trails across the country. I spent quite a bit of time checking on that yesterday, but it appears the ruling won't impact any rail-trails in Lawrence or the state. Lawrence has both the Burroughs Creek Trail and the Haskell Rail-Trail that are built on railroad easements.

But Lawrence resident Clark Coan, an officer for both the Sunflower Rail-Trails Conservancy and the Kanza Rail-Trails Conservancy, said the ruling only applies to federally-granted rail corridors, which most typically are in places like national forests and such. Neither of the Lawrence trails fall into that category, nor does the nearby Prairie Spirit Trail, which begins in Ottawa.

Toni Wheeler, the city's attorney, said she was still reviewing the Supreme Court decision, but does not expect it to have an impact on the Lawrence trails.

• I would perhaps consider allowing a trail to be built in my backyard, on the condition that it sufficiently covers the dandelions. As spring nears, so does weed season, and the City Commission at its meeting tonight will consider a change to the city's weed ordinance.

Commissioners are being asked to approve an increase in the fee the city charges when it must go and mow a person's yard because it is in violation of the city's weed ordinance. Staff members are proposing a $75 administrative fee, up from $25.

The administrative fee hasn't been raised in more than $20 years, and staff members are expressing a concern that it actually may be cheaper for some property owners to pay the current administrative fee, plus the $35 per hour that a city contractor charges for mowing, than it would be for the property owner to hire a firm to mow the lawn.

In case you are wondering, the city's weed ordinance generally comes into play when weeds or yard grasses are allowed to grow more than 12 inches in height.

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  • Comments

    Karen Christilles 9 months, 1 week ago

    :-( Carlos is where my husband and I dated as well! (I am with your wife that is my favorite too!)

    Rusty Thomas 9 months, 1 week ago

    The one in St Joe has closed as well. In Hays they told folks it was due to a rent increase. Evidently not.

    Mark Jakubauskas 9 months, 1 week ago

    No loss. Far better food at any one of a dozen Mexican restaurants around town.

    Russell Fryberger 9 months, 1 week ago

    It's too bad about the growing towards Topeka thing. Most Lawrence people really don't want that. That part of Lawrence sucks. We should be building more towards KC.

    Kristen Murphy 9 months, 1 week ago

    Pretty sure you forgot about the location in Manhattan. They are in the mall.

    Brandon Devlin 9 months, 1 week ago

    I don't want to be picky, Chad, but I think 26 years is a little too long. Before Carlos O'Kellys was there, that location was a "Rax," which I believe closed in/about 1992. (I don't remember exactly when, all I know is it was after 1990. I showed up for work one day and the door was locked.) Unless there was a location in Lawrence before that?

    Scott Morgan 9 months, 1 week ago

    My wife and I were picking up stuff at Westlake Hardware and discussed where to have lunch just a few weeks ago. Walking to car noticed Carlos both us thinking, hey why not. Used to dine there often 10 + years ago.

    For some reason simply never dined there for years, no reason, sort of forgot it was there. We found the place very clean, great server, outstanding art, chow pretty good as well. Server most certainly one of the best we've had in a while. Also, the staff gave us time for a non rushed lunch. Is there any really good Mexican food in Lawrence anywho?

    Ironically, we both agreed to put them on our Lawrence restaurant schedule. Wow, what a surprise.

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