Owner says Lawrence’s Perkins restaurant is close to reopening after March fire

Construction work is underway at Perkins, June 1, 2018, following a March fire.

Maybe it is a slight exaggeration to say that I would walk through a steel wall for a breakfast of biscuits and gravy and hashbrowns. But it is no exaggeration to say that plenty of people are ready to walk around a large steel box to get their breakfast at Lawrence’s Perkins.

The store suffered a fire on March 12, and for months there have been large, boxcar-sized, steel construction containers in front of the restaurant’s front door. That’s no deterrent for people who think there’s biscuits and gravy on the other side of the steel.

“Those big boxes, they just walk past them and come in and ask if we are serving breakfast yet,” said Dan Esmond, who owns the restaurant with his wife, Cheri. “It doesn’t faze them.”

The restaurant, of course, isn’t open yet. But Esmond does have a projected opening date: the week of June 25.

The restaurant, which is at the corner 23rd Street and Ousdahl, basically will have a completely new interior when the work is done. Esmond said that wasn’t always the plan because the initial thought was that the March fire wouldn’t require a complete refurbishment. After all, restaurant staff didn’t even see the fire. Esmond said the staff became aware as motorists on 23rd Street began calling about smoke coming from the roof.

An exhaust fan in the kitchen became stuck and overheated to the point that it started to melt metal. That left such a heavy concentration of smoke in the attic that Esmond was told major work was going to have to be done to ensure the building wouldn’t have a smoke smell.

The work basically required taking everything down to the studs, and Esmond decided he might as well install new kitchen equipment as well. He estimates that renovations costs will finish between $500,000 to $600,000.

“At some point we decided if we are going to have to do all this, let’s go all out,” Esmond said. “It basically will be a brand new store when we open.”

The menu, though, will be the same favorites people have come to expect. Esmond — who used to be an executive vice president for Perkins before he bought the Lawrence and Topeka stores in 1995 — understands what people are looking for. The restaurant has a heavy emphasis on traditional breakfast items, a bakery with lots of pies and other menu items that he calls “mid-America food.”

When it reopens, the restaurant will continue to be a 24-hour operation, making it one of the few full-service restaurants in Lawrence to be continuously open.

Upon reopening, the restaurant also will have an anniversary to celebrate. Perkins has been open for 40 years in Lawrence, which makes it one of the older restaurants still operating in the city.

“It is the perfect restaurant model for the type of community we have in Lawrence,” Esmond said.

College students — everybody from people looking to study throughout the night to those looking for food after the bars close — frequent the restaurant. At one point, the Lawrence Perkins was the top late-night restaurant in the entire Perkins chain, said Esmond, although he said that business has changed some now that many fast-food restaurants are open late.

But as Lawrence’s population has aged and more retirees have moved to the community, that part of the restaurant’s business has thrived, he said.

Esmond said he’s just eager to start serving again. Recovering from the fire has taken longer than he expected. The fire has been full of unexpected twists and turns. The first one was that the alarm system didn’t work properly. That allowed more damage to happen than it would have otherwise, but Esmond said it also has really slowed down the rehabilitation. That’s because the insurance company and the alarm company had to have quite a bit of discussion to figure out whether the alarm company was going to be liable for some of the damages.

“Everybody wanted their experts to come to look it over and talk it over, and that really delayed things,” Esmond said.

But that debate has now been resolved. Construction is still underway, but Esmond is optimistic the restaurant will hit its opening date of the week of June 25.

He said he has to because too many people keep asking him when the restaurant will reopen.

“They are jonesing for this place,” he said.


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