Downtown restaurant owners to open bistro in East Lawrence; city named one of best small college towns in America
Even though plans for my Magnum P.I. mustache got vetoed, I’m still working to solve the mystery of a new bistro that is now under construction in East Lawrence’s Warehouse Arts District. Here are two new clues: The project involves a 33-foot long food truck and the owners of downtown Lawrence’s The Burger Stand restaurant.
Simon and Codi Bates, the owners of The Burger Stand at 803 Massachusetts St., told me they indeed have signed a lease to operate a new bistro in the small building that is just west of the Poehler Lofts building at Eighth and Pennsylvania streets.
We’ve reported multiple times that Tony Krsnich, who leads the group that has developed the Warehouse Arts District, wants to have a bistro in the small, historic stone building. But until now, we haven’t known who would operate the business.
We still don’t know exactly what the new restaurant will include. Codi and Simon said they weren’t ready yet to announce a name for the project or to provide many details about the proposed menu. But one thing is clear: The bistro won’t be The Burger Stand East.
“We love burgers, but we also love other things too,” Codi said.
“We may put one burger on the menu, but no more than that,” Simon said. “We are friends with so many restaurant owners in downtown, and we don’t want to step on what other people are doing. It is going to be something that is different than what is offered currently.”
Codi said the menu will focus on “what we like to make for ourselves when we are home.” (I tried to get a loan for just such a concept once, but the banker said he didn’t think a restaurant that served sticks of butter dipped in sugar would pencil out.)
Simon said he’s reluctant to discuss details of the menu, in part, because he still has to figure out what can be made in a food truck. The stone building for the bistro is so small that it can’t accommodate a kitchen, so all food will be made from a food truck that is parked outside the bistro. Simon said a North Lawrence company currently is converting a 33-foot long U-Haul truck — the largest they could find — into a food truck. Simon, who is a classically trained chef who has worked in New York and Chicago, has never operated in a food truck before.
“We’re still a week away from getting the truck,” Simon said. “I really want to get in there and see what we can do with it.”
In addition to the food truck, the bistro also will have a coffee bar and pastries, Codi said. The plan is for the restaurant to offer a lot of grab-and-go options, especially for breakfast and lunch to serve the growing office crowd in the Warehouse Arts District.
The restaurant also will serve liquor, but both Simon and Codi said they are not looking to create a bar atmosphere for the business.
“First and foremost everyone is invited,” Simon said. “It will be a family-friendly place. We’re not looking at being a loud bar scene at all.”
Codi noted that she and Simon live in the neighborhood near the bistro. That is how they became interested in the project. She said they had watched as neighbors expressed concern that the bistro would become more of a bar than a restaurant. Codi said she and Simon started wondering what the project would look like if they became involved.
“We didn’t really need another project,” Codi said, “but we have 55 people on staff (at The Burger Stand) who are really talented. We feel like we can create another opportunity for some of our staff members.”
“We wanted something fun,” Simon said. “We love burgers and we really have become tied to that, but we also love to do different things. This is a passion project for us. We want to have fun with it, and we want it to be good for the neighborhood.”
The project does have to meet a city requirement that it make 55 percent or more of its sales from food rather than from alcohol sales. Codi said that wasn’t going to be a problem for the business.
As far as a timeline, interior demolition work on the building began this week. Codi and Simon are hoping for a late summer opening. I’ll let you know when I hear more details about the name and menu plans for the restaurant.
In other news and notes from around town:
• If you have felt a special aura around town the last few weeks, it probably is because Lawrence has received another high ranking as a great place. This one slipped up on me, but Lawrence has been voted the fifth best small college town in America by readers of USA Today.
The contest looked a communities of fewer than 100,000 people that also are home to a university or college. The article, which ran on USA Today’s 10 Best website, called Lawrence “an eclectic mix of residents — students, musicians and retirees.” It also said Lawrence was home to one of the top music scenes in the Midwest and touted the Free State Festival and the BuskerFest.
Lawrence finished just above Iowa City, Iowa — which is where new City Manager Tom Markus came from — and just behind Flagstaff, Ariz. Athens, Ohio — home to the University of Ohio — was top on the list. The list ended up having some towns that you don’t necessarily think of as college towns. Santa Fe, N.M., was on the list at No. 8, and Williamsburg, Va., was No. 3.
Williamsburg — which is home to the College of William & Mary — is best known as a tourist town with lots of Revolutionary War-era re-enactors in Colonial Williamsburg. I guess that makes sense. Nothing says you have a town full of smart people like funny hats and wool britches in July.
Plans filed for major mental health facility in eastern Lawrence; businesses fill new Warehouse Arts District building; work begins on new bistro
While government officials continue to work on plans for a multimillion dollar mental health crisis intervention center, a private company has filed plans for a major new mental health center that will be based in eastern Lawrence.
A private company that operates an inpatient mental health hospital in Olathe has filed plans at City Hall to open an outpatient mental health clinic at 1900 Delaware St. Cottonwood Springs Behavioral Health Hospital has been open since September, and the company said it has not taken it long to realize it needs to have an outpatient presence in Lawrence.
“We saw a huge need to have an outpatient clinic in Lawrence,” said Mark Russell, director of business development for Cottonwood Springs. “We saw a lot of people from Lawrence and Topeka using our services in Olathe.”
The company is a full-service mental health care provider, including drug and alcohol addictions, depression, personality disorders and other disorders. The Olathe facility has 48 of its planned 72 inpatient beds open, Russell said. He said the Lawrence facility will be a location where community members can drop in and receive free mental health assessments. If inpatient care is needed, Lawrence patients can be admitted to the Olathe facility.
The Lawrence facility, though, is expected to play a major role in outpatient treatment. Russell said Cottonwood Springs operates intensive outpatient programs that require some patients to come to the facility five days per week, often for multiple hours of the day.
“A lot of patients from Lawrence or Topeka don’t want to drive here (Olathe) every day,” he said.
Russell said the Lawrence facility will be staffed by a psychiatrist, who will serve as the facility’s medical director. The facility also will be staffed by a licensed master level therapist and four to five other employees. The Olathe hospital has a staff of about 80, he said.
He said Cottownood Springs, which is owned by Louisville-based Springstone, plans to make major investments in the Kansas City area. Russell said the company has seen the public sector struggle to meet mental health care needs.
“That is one of the main reasons we came into the Johnson County area,” Russell said. “The surveys we saw showed this area was in the top 25 in the country in terms of underutilized mental health services and beds.”
Plans call for about $45,000 worth of new construction at the building, which previously housed some of the state’s SRS services before that agency consolidated space in Lawrence. Russell said he hopes the facility can be operational in September.
It will be interesting to watch how this facility plays into the idea of a crisis intervention center that county officials currently are planning. As we have reported, Douglas County has hired a firm to begin planning and design work for a crisis intervention center that would provide some inpatient beds for community members that are in a mental health crisis. The crisis center is part of a larger county effort to expand the existing Douglas County Jail and also address concerns that people with mental health conditions not be unduly housed at the jail.
I didn’t get into any discussions with Russell about what, if any, role his company might be able to play in addressing some of those needs. But it seems likely that the county will face challenges in securing all the funding needed to expand the jail and build a crisis intervention center. Whether a partnership with a private provider can play a role will be an issue to perhaps watch.
In other news and notes from around town:
• I’ve talked a lot about new chicken places coming to town in the past several months. Well, add one more, but this one is different. It is not a restaurant but an office building.
As we reported in January, the developers of East Lawrence’s Warehouse Arts District filed plans for 10,000 square feet of offices at 832 Pennsylvania St. Well, that project is now completed and has a new name: The Orpington.
In case you aren’t up on your poultry breeds, developer Tony Krsnich explains that the Orpington is a beautiful breed of chicken. But why name a building after a chicken? History. The building at 832 Pennsylvania used to be a building that processed poultry long ago. For years it has informally been called The Poultry Building, and it also has been vacant for a good long time.
So, two things have now changed. The building has a new name, and it is no longer vacant. Krsnich said 15 of the 16 office spaces already have been leased. Companies including a salon, attorneys, engineers and tech companies have leased space in the building.
Krsnich said the project has come together very quickly and is further evidence that there is strong demand for office space that can accommodate businesses that are either small or in their startup stages. (Each office is about 200 square feet.) He said some of the tenants of the new building have moved from the Cider Gallery office incubator space that his company also owns and operates.
“This is exactly what we hoped to achieve when we did the Cider Gallery three years ago,” he said. “We are really trying to embrace entrepreneurship, and we think that is making a difference.”
The public can take a look at the completely renovated office building at a 4 p.m. open house on Friday.
• The Orpington project went quickly, but one that has not gone nearly as fast is a plan to add a bistro to the Warehouse Arts District. Krsnich has been working on that project for about three years, but he told me today he now has pulled a building permit for the project.
As we’ve previously reported, the business will be at 804 Pennsylvania St., adjacent to the multistory Poehler Lofts building. The bistro will be a bit unique in that it won’t have a kitchen. Instead, its food needs will be served by a food truck or a number of them. The bistro will have a bar too.
Krsnich said he couldn’t yet release all the details about who will be providing food service for the business. I’ll do some checking around on that, but previously several food trucks had publicly said they wanted to locate at the facility. Those have included Drasko’s Food Truck & Catering, KanBucha, Optimal Living, Torched Goodness, and Wilma’s Real Good Food. I’m not sure if they are all still in the project, but I’ll provide an update when I have one. (UPDATE: Add the folks who own The Burger Stand in downtown as foodies to keep an eye on with this project.)
Krsnich said he hopes to begin renovation work next week and would like to have the building open by late summer.
• A quick housekeeping note: Town Talk will be off Friday. If you have a tip for me, feel free to come out to the Douglas County Fairgrounds, where I will be parking cars for the antique auto swap meet that begins Friday and lasts through the weekend. I'll be the guy in the cowboy hat riding the hood of a car. At least that's what I fear.
City Commission to decide fate of debated ‘Quonset hut’ in East Lawrence; more on a food truck bistro in Warehouse Arts District
Hut, hut! In some places that phrase signals the delivery of an under-inflated football, but not here in Lawrence, where we like our footballs round and orange. Instead, we’re just getting warmed up for a City Hall debate over whether an old Quonset hut in East Lawrence should be torn down.
We’ve previously reported that Black Hills Energy would like to tear down a Quonset hut at 620 E. Eighth St., which previously served as the natural gas company’s maintenance facility. But the proposed demolition has been met with resistance, including from the city’s Historic Resources Commission.
City commissioners on Tuesday are set to decide the issue. Both the city’s Historic Resources Commission and the city’s planning staff are urging city commissioners to deny the demolition permit and instead require Black Hills to come up with another plan of action.
On a 3-1 vote, the Historic Resources Commission determined that the old Quonset hut — which was built in 1955 — was an important part of the Eighth and Penn Neighborhood Redevelopment Zone. Several neighbors have said the building is a good example post WW II architecture and helps convey the retro industrial character of the neighborhood.
But officials with Black Hills say they need to demolish the structure in order to do some necessary testing of the soil. The property in the late 1800s was a manufactured gas plant, and those operations left some environmental residue. Black Hills hopes to sell the property, but before that happens attorneys want a thorough testing of the property to determine what environmental liabilities still exist.
City staff members, though, are offering some alternatives to demolition. They include: sell or give the structure to someone who would move it to a compatible site; move the structure to a different part of the Black Hills site that has already been tested; remove the concrete slab of the building and conduct the tests with the building still standing; or do a few core samples to determine if further testing of the site is warranted.
It does seem like you should be able to remove the floor and do some testing without removing the building, but Black Hills officials have said that there’s reason to believe testing crews may have to drill fairly deep, and leaving the building standing will limit bringing a large drilling rig to the site.
Black Hills officials have argued the city’s Historic Resources Commission didn’t even have authority to review the demolition permit, but rather has overstepped its bounds. It also says the Historic Resources Commission has misidentified the property as a Quonset hut. It is not an actual Quonset hut, but rather just a metal building with a slightly rounded roof. Indeed, it does look different from a typical Quonset hut.
The property is adjacent to the Warehouse Arts District, which is part of the Eighth and Penn historic district. But Black Hills notes that the old maintenance building was not considered a contributing structure to that historic district, and thus the district won’t be harmed if it is removed.
This will be the first historic preservation test for the new City Commission. Everybody has a different definition of what is worthy of protection, so we may start to get a read on that issue from commissioners on Tuesday.
Then there is the question of what would happen to the building if it remained on the site. I’ve heard some area residents say it could be a cool art gallery as part of the Warehouse Arts District. I’ve heard another say it could be a neat restaurant, perhaps an old style diner or hamburger joint with a 1950s theme to match the era of its construction.
Hamburgers may be neat, but since it already is shaped like a hot dog, maybe a place that serves footlong coneys with cheese, onions, peppers and, of course, lots and lots of chili. Given the history of the building, there’s even a perfect name for such a place: The Gas Hut.
Commissioners meet at 5:45 p.m. Tuesday at City Hall.
In other news and notes from around town:
• It will be East Lawrence night at City Hall on Tuesday. Also on the commission’s agenda is a request to allow a new bistro/drinking establishment at 804 Pennsylvania St. At issue here is whether the city should waive a previously established requirement that the location make at least 55 percent of its sales in food. That requirement was put in place to stop any future establishment from becoming a straight bar use.
A group led by Tony Krsnich, the developer of the Warehouse Arts District, owns the small building, which is just west of the large Poehler Lofts building. Krsnich has proposed creating a bistro that also serves beer, wine and cocktails. The establishment would be unique because its food would come from food trucks parked in a special area just outside the business. The building is small, which makes it tough to install a kitchen, Krsnich has said.
Originally Krsnich agreed to the 55 percent food requirement as a compromise with neighbors who were concerned about having a bar open in the neighborhood. But now Krsnich said he can’t find anyone willing to operate a bistro at the location with that requirement. He said he has no interest in operating a rowdy bar at the site, but he said no one wants to make the investment in this location with the chance that they could fall a few percent short on food sales and be forced to close.
Commissioners dealt with the items a few weeks ago, and it looked like they were ready to uphold the 55 percent food requirement. But they instead asked the neighbors and Krsnich to meet again to see if another compromise is apparent.
As the item comes back to the commission, Krsnich is sharing more details about how the food truck portion of the business is likely to work. Five food operators have provided information about their plans to locate at the bistro, if the 55 percent food requirement is removed. They are: Drasko’s Food Truck & Catering; KanBucha; Optimal Living; Torched Goodness; and Wilma’s Real Good Food.
Three of the five appear to be food trucks.
Drasko’s often is outside The Granada Theater in downtown, and promotes its puffy taco and brisket cheese fries, among other dishes.
Torched Goodness sells creme brûlée at a variety of events, but also has done other food truck creations as well.
Then there’s Wilma’s Real Good Food. That appears to be a prominent food truck in Kansas City. Well, actually, it looks like it operates out of a highly decorated Airstream trailer.
In a letter to commissioners, owner Brett Atkinson says he’s moving his personal residence to Lawrence’s Warehouse Arts District, and Lawrence will become his new home base of operations for the food truck. He said he plans to serve food at the bistro at least one day per week for the next five years. In terms of the food, his Facebook page lists items like meatloaf sliders, bourbon pecan pulled pork sandwiches, and some type of towering pastrami creation.
It will be interesting to see how commissioners deal with this issue. The city long has had a 55 percent food requirement for new drinking establishments in downtown. (There are a few building locations that are grandfathered in, but any drinking establishment seeking to go into a new location has to meet the requirement.) But until now the city had not really shown a desire to expand that 55 percent food requirement to other parts of the city. The concern is that without the requirement an area could become a bar district. Theoretically, any strip mall could become a bar district as well. Some strip malls are pretty well separated from neighborhoods, but some are pretty close to residential housing. If approved Tuesday, is this the beginning of a new trend in Lawrence? Will you have to meet a food requirement if you want to open a bar anywhere in the city?
• One last word about food trucks. Krsnich also is one of the organizers of the Kansas Food Truck Festival that took place in the Warehouse Arts District on May 2. Krsnich said the success of that event has him more convinced than ever that a bistro built around the food truck concept will work well.
Krsnich said his staff has finished tallying the results of the festival. About 4,000 people attended the one-day event, which produced $23,000 in proceeds for the local food bank Just Food, which is led by Mayor Jeremy Farmer. That’s up from $7,500 the event produced for the food bank last year, which was the first for the event.
Maybe it will be called the Black Powder Bistro.
As we briefly reported several weeks ago, the idea for a bistro in East Lawrence's Warehouse Arts District is gaining steam. Arts district developer Tony Krsnich has a request before city commissioners tonight to rezone a late 1800s stone building near Eighth and Pennsylvania streets to allow for a bistro, bar and eatery.
The old building, which is just west of Krsnich's Poehler Lofts apartment building, served in the early 1900s as a warehouse for ammunition and gunpowder sold by the Poehler Mercantile Co. Poehler officials didn't want all the ammunition stored in their fine four-story warehouse, which now houses the lofts.
Thus, my idea for Black Powder Bistro. I suppose you could go with Powder Keg Bistro as well, but Krsnich already is trying to convince neighbors that this establishment won't be the wild and rowdy type. Krsnich does want to serve beer and cocktails at the establishment, but he also wants to serve scones and cold sandwiches and have a laid-back patio atmosphere, perhaps even featuring a wood-fired Argentine grill that will serves brats and other grilled items.
Krsnich says he's pursuing the idea because he gets multiple requests a week from people wanting some type of eating or drinking option in the arts district, which is now home to the Cider Gallery arts and event space that is drawing in aficionados from the Kansas City area. He's said several residents in the Poehler Lofts building also have wanted an establishment where they can get a meal or a drink without having to get in their vehicles to travel somewhere.
The idea, though, has drawn some opposition from the East Lawrence neighborhood. The proposed zoning for the site would allow for a traditional bar to be established at the location. City planners have suggested several conditions to try to alleviate bar-related concerns at the site. One is the idea that 55 percent of the business' revenues would have to come from the sale of food or nonalcoholic beverages. That's the requirement that new drinking establishments in downtown Lawrence have to meet.
Krsnich, though, has asked planners to give the establishment two years to meet that level of food sales instead of the standard one year. The Lawrence-Douglas County Planning Commission is recommending that two-year period.
There's been some indication those conditions will satisfy neighbors, but we'll know more tonight.
As far as a timeline, Krsnich wants to get the necessary zoning approval and then start searching for an operator of the establishment. He hopes to have the business open sometime next spring.
As far as the name goes, the business doesn't have one yet. Krsnich said he plans to have some sort of community competition to name the establishment — thus my suggestion. He didn't mention a $10,000 prize to the winner, but I thought I would get a head start just in case.
Although it wouldn't be a good name, this project really is Small Potatoes compared with the other project Krsnich has going on in the neighborhood. As we previously have reported, Krsnich is working to build an entirely new four-story building at Ninth and Delaware streets to house another set of loft apartments.
This project, which would be at the southeast corner of Ninth and Delaware streets, would have a mix of 43 one-bedroom, two bedroom and three-bedroom loft style apartments. Like the nearby Poehler building, it would use state tax credits for part of its financing, which would commit the project to making a majority of the units rent-controlled apartments.
There's not much new to report on the project, other than it is sailing through the development process thus far. The rezoning of the property is up for approval at tonight's City Commission meeting. It comes to commissioners with a positive 10-0 recommendation from the Lawrence-Douglas County Planning Commission.
Probably the next thing to watch for will be the design of this new four-story building. Lawrence builders sometimes have a tendency to build large new buildings to look like old buildings. Krsnich said that is not his intention with this project.
"I want this to look completely different from the Poehler building to show off a lot of modern and contemporary architecture," Krsnich said.
Once I get my hands on some renderings of the project, I'll pass them along. Krsnich has hired Kansas City, Mo.-based Rosemann & Associates to design the building.