Lawrence-based hamburger chain expanding into Kansas City; a 1,000-foot water slide coming to town; area swimmer signs pro contract with adidas
You know me, I’m always looking for an excuse to wear my Hamburglar outfit, so my ears perked up when I heard news of a Lawrence business that is becoming a growing burger chain. But, alas, no Hamburglars, no clowns or other such characters. Instead, there’s news that Lawrence-based Dempsey’s is taking another step at becoming a regional leader in the upscale burger market.
Lawrence businessman Steve Gaudreau has confirmed he’s struck a deal to expand his Dempsey’s burger chain into the Kansas City market. Gaudreau has finalized a deal to purchase the Blanc Burgers + Bottles in the Westport district of Kansas City, Mo. Gaudreau said the Blanc location will be converted over to a Dempsey’s by July 7.
This will mark the fourth location for Dempsey’s, which got its start and still operates out of the space at 623 Vermont St. in downtown Lawrence. The chain also has locations in Lincoln, Neb., and Wichita. Gaudreau said the business is still very much in an expansion mode.
“I want to grow it as big as I can go,” said Gaudreau, who also is the longtime owner of the downtown bar and sandwich shop Quinton’s. “Dempsey’s is definitely our future. I prefer the restaurant business over the bar business. That’s more of a young man’s game.”
Gaudreau said he thinks the prospects for growth are good in the upscale burger market. Prior to the Westport deal, Wichita was the last market he expanded into. He said diners there have taken to the idea of burger with a flair.
“Wichita was way bigger than my projections,” Gaudreau said. “It is doing extremely well. Lawrence had its best year, and thus far every year has been better than the previous one. Lincoln is smaller than the other stores. There was an influx of restaurants that opened there when we opened. But it is doing fine.”
Gaudreau said at the moment he’s not looking to franchise the business, but rather wants to build up a chain of locations that he owns. Gaudreau said getting into the Kansas City market has been high on his list because it is a large enough community where he could operate several Dempsey’s in the market, once the restaurant builds name recognition.
Gaudreau said the owner of Blanc Burgers & Bottles was ready to sell the Wesport location so that he could focus solely on Blanc’s other Kansas City metro location, which is located in Leawood.
As for Gaudreau’s other Lawrence business, Quinton’s, he said the longtime downtown establishment continues to “chug along.” But he said the bar business in Lawrence has seemed to become more sporadic of late. That would jibe with some of the numbers we reported last week about how Lawrence’s drink tax collections have declined for two straight years.
“The bar business is a fickle game right now,” Gaudreau said. “It is just a seesaw. You don’t have the constant, steady business that you used to have.”
In other news and notes from around town:
• I may not have found a reason to wear my Hamburglar suit yet, but it looks like there may be a weekend where my Speedo in Lawrence won’t draw as many stares. There’s information out on the social media world advertising that a 1,000-foot temporary water slide is coming to Lawrence in August.
A company called The Urban Slide is advertising that it will be on Eighth Street Aug. 8-9. The company’s website promotes the slide as being 1,000 feet long and “built for steady sliding and extraordinary family fun.”
The website doesn’t really spell out the specific location for the slide, but when you click on the direction tab on the site, it takes you to the block of Eighth Street between Massachusetts and Vermont streets. I wouldn’t count on that, though.
I put on my Sherlock Holmes hat, badly misused a pipe, and did some sleuthing. Lawrence-based Silverback — the production company that does events like The Color Run and other wild things —is behind The Urban Slide.
Silverback leader Ryan Robinson said the group originally wanted to have the slide downtown, but a host of logistical issues has that looking unlikely. For one, the slide works best on a hill, which is lacking in downtown. And then there is the issue of size — 1,000 feet is really long. Robinson estimated the slide is about 2.5 blocks long.
“That would cause Massachusetts Street to shut down, and I don’t think the city really wants that,” Robinson said.
He’s probably right, but how cool would it be to finally go down Massachusetts Street — legally — on an inner tube?
Robinson said he’s now looking at areas around the KU campus, which as any freshman and his oxygen bottle can tell you, is located on top of a hill. Robinson mentioned Mississippi Street and Fambrough Way as possibilities. He said he hasn’t settled on any location, and the use of any city street is going to have to win approval from city officials for safety and traffic purposes.
But Robinson said he’s confident a location is going to be found and that the event will happen in August. Robinson said his company’s been putting on Urban Slide events in other metro areas around the country for about a year.
“They are a blast,” Robinson said.
I’ll let you know when I hear of a location for the Lawrence event.
• Speaking of swimsuits, there is now a rural Lawrence resident who is officially making his living in one. I got word today that 16-year old swimming phenom Michael Andrew has signed a professional endorsement deal with the athletic equipment company adidas.
Michael’s mother, Tina Andrew, said her son has signed with adidas Swim. The signing makes Michael the youngest male swimmer in the history of U.S. swimming to turn pro.(Actually, it looks like he technically became the youngest male professional in 2014 when he signed a deal with nutritional supplement company.) Even if you are not a swim fan, perhaps you remember reading of Michael. I did a profile on Michael and his family back in 2013, detailing the wild ride that an international swimming career has taken them on.
Back then, the goal certainly was for Michael to make the U.S. Olympic team for the 2016 games in Rio de Janeiro. All indications are that is still the goal, and perhaps just the beginning. Terms of the adidas deal were not disclosed, but the parties confirmed it is a multiyear agreement.
“Michael’s drive, talent and personality fit perfectly with adidas’ ambition to empower young swimmers around the world,” Christine Barth-Darkow, category director for swim for adidas Global said in a press release. “We look forward to supporting Michael on his journey to leave his mark on the global stage for many years to come.”
Thus far, Andrew has set 76 age group records in US swimming.
Plans filed for restaurant to go into former Round Corner Drug space downtown; city seeks comments on police headquarters location
I'm not sure it will involve coal, but it almost certainly will involve beer. While we could be talking about my stocking on Christmas morning, we're not. Instead, we're trying to determine the latest restaurant that will go into the former Round Corner Drug building at Eighth and Massachusetts streets.
There has been speculation the owners of Coal Vines, a pizza and wine bar that operates on the Country Club Plaza, will open a restaurant in the space at 801 Massachusetts. Well, plans indeed have been filed at Lawrence City Hall for a new restaurant to go into the space. The plans, however, don't identify the tenant, but strong indications are that Zach Marten, a KU graduate and owner of Coal Vines, is involved in the project.
I've got a message into Marten, but haven't yet heard back. But I did hear from an employee at Coal Vines in recent weeks that a Lawrence plan was in the works, but I was told it is possible the new establishment may not carry the Coal Vines name.
As for Coal Vines, if you are not familiar, its specialty is New York-style pizza that is cooked in a coal-burning oven. But it also is a big brunch spot on the plaza, serves several whole wheat pastas and, of course, a big selection of wines and beers. (I've always thought coal and beer go well together, which by the way, is evidently not the right conversation-starter to use with the HR person at the coal-fired power plant just outside of town.)
But the owners of Coal Vines also have branched out into other restaurant ventures in Kansas City. According to the Kansas City Star, Marten and his business partner are behind the new Westport Ale House that opened in March. That concept involves a sports bar theme, more than 50 different beers and a menu that includes items like hamburgers with fried eggs on them and apple pie that somehow involves bourbon. (There's also a dish that involves doughnut holes and beer, but I hardly thought that was worth mentioning. That's just called Saturday morning.)
The plans filed at City Hall don't give a good clue to what the concept may be in Lawrence. The plans simply state the establishment will provide Lawrence with a "unique dining/drinking experience not otherwise available."
The plans do show one feature, however, that will be interesting to watch. Architects are proposing that a new window system be installed on the ground floor of the restaurant. The plan calls for large tilt-up windows that would basically open the dining area up to the fresh air of Massachusetts Street. It also would allow for a big walk-through area between the bar and a new sidewalk seating area that is proposed for the Massachusetts Street sidewalk in front of the business.
There have been other downtown establishments that have proposed similar ideas of creating an open-air space along Massachusetts Street. The former Mexican restaurant Tapas is the one that I remember most. That plan, however, never got approval, so it will be interesting to see how city planners view this proposal. Like pretty much all downtown redevelopment, the plan must pass muster with certain historic preservation guidelines.
In other news and notes from around town:
• All right, you caught me. I'm still thinking about a hamburger with a fried egg on it. Dempsey's Burger Pub, 623 Vermont St., long has offered that combination. Well, there's news out of that restaurant. It is continuing to become one of Lawrence's larger exports.
Dempsey's owner Steve Gaudreau told me recently that Dempsey's is set to open its third location in the region. He has signed a lease to open in the College Hill area of Wichita. The location is in the Clifton Square development of the district. It is a bit of a homecoming for Gaudreau. He grew up just blocks away from the location. Gaudreau, who is probably best known in Lawrence for being the founder of Quinton's, opened up a Dempsey's in Lincoln, Neb., last year.
The opening of a Dempsey's in Wichita squares with what Gaudreau told me back then. He said he thinks the upscale burger trend is one with staying power because a whole new generation of foodies is looking for an affordable way to eat gourmet.
"The future is having a chain of Dempsey's," Gaudreau told me last year. "I want to go where the market takes me."
Gaudreau tells me that he currently is looking for a location to open a Dempsey's in Kansas City.
• Some of us have hamburgers with fried eggs on our minds, while others have thoughts of a potential $30 million police headquarters building on theirs. City officials want to hear your thoughts on the latter. They have set up a website to take comments on locations for a potential headquarters building.
Earlier this month, city commissioners said they wanted to study four locations for the headquarters building:
— About 15 acres of city-owned land in VenturePark, the new industrial park that formerly was Farmland Industries. The property is along Kansas Highway 10 on the eastern edge of the city, near the Douglas County Jail.
— About 29 acres of city-owned property at Overland and Wakarusa drives. The property is essentially behind the Walmart on Sixth Street. The site is near Free State High School and once was considered to house a city recreation center.
— About 47 acres of property on the east side of McDonald Drive, north of the school district's administrative building. The property is near the west Lawrence interchange of the Kansas Turnpike. It's currently listed for $3.2 million, more than double what the city has budgeted for land acquisition. But the site also is much larger than the 15 acres needed for the project. City officials have said they would look at the possibility of selling off parcels of the property to recoup some of their costs.
— Up to 50 acres of property along West 31st Street between Ousdahl Road and Louisiana Street. The property has some floodplain concerns but would be adjacent to the new South Lawrence Trafficway.
You can go to lawrenceks.org/police-facility-comment to give your opinion about the potential sites. The city will accept comments until July 1.
There may still be one wildcard to consider with the police headquarters location, however. I'm hearing some discussion about potentially expanding the facility to house Municipal Court. Currently the city pays just under $95,000 a year to lease the building at 1006 New Hampshire St. that currently houses Municipal Court.
In recent days, the city has renewed that lease with Berkeley Plaza Inc. But instead of renewing for the standard three-year term, the city renewed for only one year. That was done to give city officials flexibility in case a decision is made to incorporate Municipal Court into the police headquarters building.
The idea is getting some consideration because police officers do have to spend some time testifying in Municipal Court. Having the court as part of the headquarters may create some time savings for officers.
I don't think the addition of Municipal Court would require a significantly larger site, but it would mean that the site would be visited by members of the public more frequently. City Manager David Corliss, though, has said in the age of smartphones and GPS, he's not too worried about choosing a site that residents will have a hard time finding. All four under consideration seem pretty easy to find anyway.
We'll see where the conversation leads. I expect a lot of discussion in July about how much this police headquarters building should cost and what type of tax increase should be presented to voters in November.
More LJWorld City Coverage
If you are a confused Kansas University football fan (and that trait sometimes goes with the territory), who still travels to Lincoln to see the ‘Hawks and the Huskers square off, all is not lost.
A taste of Lawrence soon will be opening up in Lincoln. Dempsey’s Burger Pub, 623 Vermont Street, is expanding into the Nebraska city.
Dempsey’s owner Steve Gaudureau recently told me the company has signed a lease to take over about a 4,500-square-foot restaurant space in downtown Lincoln. The restaurant will be about a block and a half from another taste of Lawrence, BisonWitches Bar & Deli, which is a spin-off of Gaudureau’s popular Quinton’s Bar & Deli in Lawrence.
Gaudureau has had Dempsey’s in Lawrence for about five years, but has added the gourmet burger side of the business within the past three years. Before that, Lawrence’s The Burger Stand got its start out of Dempsey’s, before the two establishments ended up parting ways and splitting off to create a burger rivalry in the city. Gaudureau said Dempsey’s has found its stride, and now he wants to see how large it can become.
“Dempsey’s is my new passion,” Gaudureau said. “This is my future. I’m still selling Quinton’s franchises, but I’m done opening them up. The future is having a chain of Dempsey’s. I want to go where the market takes me.”
Gaudureau — who has grown the Quinton’s and BisonWitches franchise into a multi-state operation — believes upscale burgers are a food trend that has some staying power because a whole new generation of “foodies” is looking for an affordable way to eat gourmet.
What does a gourmet burger look like? Well, Dempsey’s has three burgers made from high-end Kobe beef, and the rest are made from local grinds, and may include ingredients such as Bordelaise sauce, arugula greens, aioli, Gruyere cheese and something called a pretzel bun. (I would think it would leak with all those holes in it, but I guess that's why I'm not a gourmet chef.)
Gaudureau hopes to have the Lincoln restaurant open by mid-April.
He also has a few minor changes on tap for the Lawrence Dempsey’s location. He’s filed plans at Lawrence City Hall to add a new patio onto the north side of the building. It will replace a patio that currently is on the backside of the building.
“I’ve never really liked that patio,” Gaudureau said. “This one will give us a little less occupancy, but I think our usage will go way up because it will be much nicer.”
Look for that project sometime this spring.