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Lawrence-based company launches salad dressing line, set to make QVC appearance; city commissioners to discuss fun center and police headquarters
The area near 23rd and Haskell is quickly becoming one of the more important food centers in Lawrence. I know what you're thinking: That's obvious. The ability to start your day with a handful of donuts, a bag of Doritios and a two-litter bottle of Mountain Dew at QuikTrip is certainly critical. But these days, the area's importance goes even beyond that.
Just west of the QT, in a converted machine shop, is the headquarters and production facility for Hilary's Eat Well, the veggie burger company formed by the owner of the former downtown restaurant Local Burger. Keep an eye on that location because Hilary's Eat Well is quickly transforming from a little veggie burger company into a full-fledged natural foods company with a national footprint.
There's two pieces of news with Hilary's Eat Well these days: The company earlier this month launched a new line of health-conscious salad dressings, and in the coming days, the company will be making its first appearance on the television shopping network QVC.
"I think the perception locally is that we're just a cute little local company, but we really are becoming a national brand," said Becky Harpstrite, creative director and brand manager for the company.
The salad dressing line is a good example. Right out of the gate, the company landed a nationwide deal to put the line of dressings in Whole Foods stores. In fact, until Aug. 1, Whole Foods has an exclusive deal to sell the dressings. After that point, Harpstrite said the dressings will be in a host of major grocery retailers.
With the salad dressings the company is capitalizing on its philosophy to produce only allergen-free products. That means no gluten, no soy, no dairy, no eggs, no corn, no nuts and no yeast. But the dressings also may have some ingredients that you wouldn't expect, like dandelion root and eyebright, which fall into the medicinal herb category. Eyebright promotes eye health, and dandelion root may help reduce inflammation. (That's good to know. When you see me rolling around in my yard, you'll know my joints are sore.)
The dressings may seem familiar to some Lawrence residents because they are based off recipes founder Hilary Brown used at her Local Burger restaurant in downtown.
The company launched four dressing flavors earlier this month: Apple Fennel with Dandelion Root; Ranch Chia with Omega 3's; Balsamic Thyme with EyeBright, and Creamy Remoulade with Dill Pickles. All four are made with a specially-processed grape seed oil that also is designed to cut down on allergic reactions.
As for the company's appearance on QVC, look for that at 4 p.m. Tuesday. Brown, who is the company's founder and CEO, will be on for about an hour demonstrating different ways to use the company's veggie bites, which along with the veggie burgers are among the company's more popular products.
Harpstrite said Brown has already been out to QVC to do some training for the live, national television performance. So far, Harpstrite said nerves haven't seemed to be a problem for Brown.
"She is such a firecracker, that I think this type of pressure just pumps her up," Harpstrite said.
Harpstrite said the company is optimistic that both the QVC appearance and the new line of salad dressings will spark further expansion. Harpstrite said Brown has several more product lines in the development stage. Thus far, the new products haven't produced new jobs at the Lawrence headquarters. The company is using a contracted factory in Nebraska to produce the salad dressings, although the veggie burgers and veggie bites are made at the Haskell Avenue facility.
The company's sales and marketing force also is based at the Haskell facility. In total, there are 25 employees at the location, and Harpstrite said additions to the sales force are likely in the near future.
"I think you'll see us grow quite a bit in the next couple of years," Harpstrite said.
In other news and notes from around town:
• Sometimes we have been known to go round and round in circles at Lawrence City Hall, but on Tuesday, we'll actually have a good reason. Commissioners will be discussing the proposal for a family fun center and go-kart track near Clinton Parkway and Inverness Drive. Well, technically, they will be discussing a portion of that proposal.
We've reported on this project multiple times. Plans call for an electric go-kart track, batting cages, putt-putt golf and a clubhouse. A separate part of the property could house a fast-food or drive-thru type of business.
But neighbors became very organized and very concerned about the project. They raised a host of concerns related to traffic, lighting, and noise that would be associated with the fun center. The city's planning staff thought all those issues could be mitigated and has recommended approval of the project. But in April, the Lawrence-Douglas County Planning Commission saw differently. It voted 9-1 to recommend denial of the project.
At Tuesday's meeting, commissioners will discuss just one part of the recommendation. Up for debate is an amendment to the city's development code that would allow for such fun centers in the city's CN2 Neighborhood Shopping Center zoning designation. The actual plan for the proposed fun center at Clinton Parkway and Inverness is not up for approval on Tuesday.
I'm not sure what that is all about yet. The amendment to the development code would be needed in order for the Clinton Parkway and Inverness development to proceed. But the amendment also would open the door to fun centers in other areas of town. Perhaps the developers of the project have decided not proceed with the project at Clinton and Inverness, but perhaps there are other locations around town that may be on their radar. I'll do some checking.
Regardless, planning commissioners didn't like the idea of fun centers in any neighborhood zoned shopping areas. City commissioners could overturn that recommendation, but I'm not sure how likely that is. Commissioners meet at 6:35 p.m. on Tuesday.
UPDATE: I chatted with an official at the planning department. She confirmed the actual plans for the fun center at Inverness and Clinton Parkway have been officially withdrawn. They are no longer moving through the process. The text amendment, though, couldn't simply be withdrawn, so it is going to the City Commission to "finish its due process." In other words, the text amendment doesn't appear to have a champion supporting it at this moment.
• An important City Hall discussion will take place before that meeting. Commissioners will have a study session at 3:30 p.m. Tuesday at City Hall to go over possible plans for a new police headquarters building and a November sales tax election to fund it.
Look for commissioners to bring out their sharpened pencils. I expect there to be considerable discussion about whether a proposed $30 million price tag is appropriate for a police headquarters building. I think commissioners will want to hear from the police chief and others about what features can be cut from the building to save some money, but still make it functional.
Commissioners also will get more information about how a sales tax could be structured to pay for the facility. Earlier this week, the commission was given some preliminary information about sales taxes that ranged from 0.2 percent to 1 percent, and would last anywhere from 20 years to about 4 years. Commissioner Jeremy Farmer has thrown into the mix the idea of making the sales tax about more than just the police facility. He said a portion could also be used to address quality of life issues such as sidewalks, bike paths, trails, and perhaps other things as well.