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El Sol Mexican restaurant opens in West Lawrence; update on chamber CEO search

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There is no denying that Lawrence is extremely health conscious. It has long been proven that chips and salsa probably is the healthiest dish you could ever hope to eat. You can eat as much as you want because it is entirely made of vegetables. (They're called CORN chips, people.) It is clear Lawrence agrees with me, because, forget Rome, in this town all roads lead to a Mexican restaurant.

West Lawrence residents now have a closer health fix. El Sol Mexican restaurant has opened in the shopping center at Bob Billings Parkway and Wakarusa Drive. It occupies the spot where El Mezcal Mexican restaurant used to be.

El Sol is owned by the same group that operates Tres Mexicanos at 23rd and Harper in eastern Lawrence. The menus are similar, but not identical.

"This gets us in the east and the west," said Luis Ojeda, manager for El Sol.

Ojeda said he thought West Lawrence, especially near the Bob Billings and Wakarusa intersections, was generally lacking not in Mexican cuisine but eateries in general. In case you haven't heard, Bambino's, the one other restaurant at the intersection, has closed. No word yet on what may go into that spot, but the fixtures were being moved out on Wednesday. That spot has gone through a few restaurants in the last several years. I remember Tanner's sports bar, Zig & Mac's, Bambino's Italian restaurant, and I may be forgetting one. It will be interesting, though, to see how much business picks up for that shopping center once the Bob Billings Parkway and South Lawrence Trafficway interchange opens. The $17 million interchange project is supposed to open in 2016. When it does, Bob Billings Parkway will become a new gateway onto the KU campus, which may boost the commercial prospects along the corridor.

As for El Sol, its ownership group is a longtime player in the Mexican restaurant business. In addition to Tres Mexicanos, the company also has an El Sol restaurant in Ottawa. Ojeda said the company's owners got their start with the longtime Topeka Mexican restaurant Tacos El Sol, which has been in business since 1998.

Hours for El Sol are 11 a.m. to 9 p.m. Sunday through Thursday and 11 a.m. to 10 p.m. on Friday and Saturday.

Now, I have to get back to being healthy, although some Richard Simmons type (meaning he was very hairy) has alerted me that corn is a grain, not a vegetable, when harvested to make chips. One, that sounds like voodoo to me. And two, if corn chips aren't healthy, why is the leading brand named Tostitos? I'm almost certain that is the Spanish word for healthy.

In other news and notes around town:

• The Lawrence Chamber of Commerce has provided an update on its process for finding a new president and CEO for the organization. The group hasn't set a timeline for the process to unfold but, as expected, Chief Operating Officer Bonnie Lowe will handle all CEO duties while the search is underway. As we previously reported, Lawrence banker and former chamber chair Doug Gaumer will lead the search committee. According to the update, membership on that committee hasn't been finalized. It is, however, expected to include some community officials — both the city and the county provide funding to the chamber — in addition to including chamber board members.

As for timing, it doesn't look like the search process will move at a real quick pace. The chamber is in a bit of a different position than it has been in past searches. Lowe's position of chief operating officer is a fairly new one for the chamber. She has been handling some of the duties related to day-to-day operations of the organization that previously were handled by the CEO. Lowe, in case you have forgotten, is a former Lawrence bank president and former Lawrence mayor. She brings a good understanding of the community to the position.

I think search committee members will spend some time figuring out exactly how they want to define the chamber CEO position. During the search process that brought departing CEO Greg Williams to town, the chamber put a high priority on finding someone with a strong background in economic development. They really were looking for someone who had extensive contacts with site selectors and others who make decisions about where projects are going to be located. By all accounts, Williams brought that to the table. As we reported last week, Williams is resigning, effective March 14, to move back to Springfield, Mo., where his wife and children had remained.

I think the search for a new CEO also comes at an interesting time. The city and county are updating Horizon 2020, their long-range plan. One chapter is on economic development. It is possible that there could be serious discussion about significantly revising that chapter. Some of that talk may center on creating some measurable goals for the community. For example, how many jobs do we expect to have in Douglas County ten years from now? What do we expect our local gross domestic product to be 10 years from now? What do we expect our average household income to be? What about retail sales per capita? There are a host of others as well.

We'll see whether the community uses this time period to take stock of itself in those areas. I'll do my part in the near future to write an article that details some of those numbers.

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  • Comments

    Melinda Henderson 6 months, 1 week ago

    So Bonnie is going to be doing all the ED stuff, too?

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    Richard Andrade 6 months, 1 week ago

    Speaking of that shopping plaza, I drove by recently and saw Bambino's seemed to be no more. At the time, I questioned the wisdom of moving from a location on Mass where they had at least had a good 13+ year run to a location that was notoriously known for racking up a string of failed restaurant efforts. Any leads on this, Chad?

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    Betty Bartholomew 6 months, 1 week ago

    Bambino's food also seemed to go downhill after the move - I was excited when they moved since they were closer to me, but when I ate there, all of the pasta was soggy and the sauces were watery. Seemed ripe for visit from Robert Irvine.

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    Thomas Luxem 6 months, 1 week ago

    The problem with the shopping center at Bob Billings and Wakarusa is rent. We looked at a space there until we found out the costs. When El Mezcal moves (with all their successful locations) you know its not the food.

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    Betty Bartholomew 6 months, 1 week ago

    Except that the El Mez at 9th & Iowa is now signed as Pueblo...with El Mez furniture and food. I was very confused about what is going on there.

    I figured Pueblo and El Sol changes were related to the illegal employee troubles El Mez had in Ottawa(?) over the summer.

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    Chuck Wehner 6 months, 1 week ago

    You did miss one restaurant Chad, there was another Italian restaurant before Bambino's, however I can't remember the name of it.

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    Joe Blackford II 6 months, 1 week ago

    Chief BigBoy-Har-Dee's® ?

    After several idle years, the KFC in Manhattan reopened on Wednesday.

    Still has lines of cars off the parking lot & jamming 3rd St in both directions.

    Beware, all ye who come to Aggieville for Fake Patty's Day tomorrow! The line of traffic at Bluemont & N. 3rd will NOT be backed up from the roundabout, but rather headed to KFC.

    http://www.fakepattys.com/

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    Richard Heckler 6 months, 1 week ago

    That cafe location does not seem to do well. There was a beer house/cafe from KCMO in there initially I believe.

    Bonnie Lowe was a big pusher of that trillion dollar rec center that has no boundaries, rules or regulations for developers. Just turn those blind eyes and spend spend spend those hard earned tax dollars. Is Ms Lowe a micro manager?

    Taxpayers we need a $10 million tax dollar refund from the Chamber of Commerce for misleading city hall and the city commission into economic displacement. Plus a $30 million refund on the rec center project.

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