A new Lawrence restaurant is opening in a spot that is not quite in downtown and not quite in East Lawrence’s Warehouse Arts District. It is caught in between, and it will serve food from a land that knows a thing or two about that: Israel.
The folks who own the popular Lawrence catering service Culinaria Food and Wine are opening a restaurant at Ninth and New Jersey streets in the building that houses their catering kitchen. It is right by the Lawrence Creates Makerspace building, meaning I probably can make myself a new pair of elastic stretchy pants right on site.
But I may not need to. The restaurant will serve Mediterranean food, which often gets touted for its health benefits. Yes, I know I told you it will serve Israeli food, but for those of us who slept through geography class, Israel is indeed a Mediterranean nation. It just doesn’t get mentioned nearly as often as Greece, Italy or some other countries when the topic turns to Mediterranean cuisine.
The new restaurant, dubbed Culinaria Mediterranean Kitchen, hopes to change that.
“Israel is like the youngest First World country in the world,” Aaron Pillar, chef and co-owner of the restaurant, said. “The cuisine is young, but it is really a great melting pot. You have Jewish, you have Arab, you have African, Lebanese and really a lot of Eastern Europeans who have come to the country too.”
But what is Israeli food? Pillar — who owns the restaurant with his wife, Regan Lehman Pillar — said people are often surprised to learn that barbecue is popular, although there barbecue often refers to grilled meats rather than the saucy Kansas City-style we are used to. He said the restaurant will try to take that philosophy and add its own twist. One example: smoked brisket served on a latke — a potato pancake — with Lebanese hot sauce.
“That is kind of our take on brisket served on white bread,” Pilar said.
The restaurant doesn’t plan to operate an entirely kosher kitchen, but the traditions of kosher eating will come through. For example, the region doesn’t combine meat and dairy products, which means cooks have to look for other ways to add some creaminess to their dishes. Thus, look for quite a few dishes featuring tahini, which is a form of ground sesame paste.
“They use that instead of dairy a lot,” he said. “You can get really creative with that.”
In addition to the Israeli dishes, the restaurant also will serve some Italian, some Spanish and other popular dishes from the Mediterranean region. How they will serve it also will be a bit different. Regan said the restaurant will be open for lunch Tuesday through Saturday, and it will feature a counter-style service. That will mean lots of to-go items, including salads, kebabs, humus and flat bread, grilled vegetables and other such fare.
The restaurant will be open for dinner service Thursday through Saturdays. The dinner meals will be served tapas style, meaning small plates.
“The idea is to order a bunch of plates and share them with the table,” Regan said.
Liquor service also will be part of the equation, featuring a selection of wines that pair well with Mediterranean dishes, plus some cocktails and beers.
The restaurant is scheduled to open on Aug. 15 but plans to have a sneak-peek as part of the Final Fridays event on July 28. Samples of its food will be available at the restaurant, 512 E. Ninth, and cocktails will be for sale at the bar.
The catering space has been remodeled to accommodate seating for about 40 people. It also will accommodate art and some live entertainment acts, said Sybil Gibbs, general manager of the restaurant.
Culinaria will also continue to operate its catering business, which has been open for about eight years. But Regan said she often lamented that the catering business didn’t always allow her to get to know customers as well as a restaurant would have.
“We have been dancing around this option for awhile,” Regan said. “But as we have finally decided to go for it, it really does feel like the right next step for us.”
Another brewery planned for East Lawrence; new gallery and small scale retail also proposed as part of project
As if that beer can replica of the Egyptian pyramids in your garage wasn’t enough, there is now another sign that Lawrence is going crazy over beer. Plans have been filed for a new East Lawrence microbrewery that essentially would be next door to another microbrewery that is in the planning stages.
Look for the historic Standard Oil property at Ninth and Pennsylvania streets to be transformed into an area that houses a microbrewery and restaurant that is attached to gallery space and an arts-oriented retail shop. Plans have been filed at City Hall for an approximately 2,200 square-foot modern building to be constructed in between the old brick Standard Oil buildings that used to serve as a bulk oil and gasoline distribution site in the early and mid 1900s.
Scott Trettel of Lawrence-based Trettel Design Build Inc. has owned the property for about five years, and primarily bought it to house the offices of his design firm and construction company.
“I’ve realized that the social dynamic of that property seems to be changing,” said Trettel, who will continue to keep his offices in the site's main building.
The property is part of the Warehouse Arts District. At the opposite end of the block from the Standard Oil site is the popular Cider Gallery. In between the two sites, plans have been filed for a brewery and restaurant to occupy the ground floor of one of the other old industrial buildings — a former poultry processing facility — and apartments would be built above the brewery space. Other former industrial buildings in the district already are filling up with office users, and plans for a new bistro/bar on the northern end of Pennsylvania Street are progressing.
Trettel, who plans to be the owner and operator of the microbrewery and the gallery space, said the idea of having two breweries in the same block doesn’t concern him.
“Bringing a general energy of revitalization to that area will be great for Lawrence,” Trettel said. “If you look at Lawrence’s size and the number of breweries it has, I think Lawrence can handle it without becoming an over-saturated market.”
The two East Lawrence breweries are in addition to plans for a brewery operation along east 23rd Street. As we have reported, a Kansas City area businessman plans to convert the old Lawrence Lumber location at 706 E. 23rd St. into a brewery and food truck hub. (And those are in addition to my buddy’s microbrewery in his basement, which we will begin partaking in again once the federal officials remove the biohazard tape.)
Of course, there are breweries in place today. Henry T’s brews some of its own beer under the brand name Yankee Tank Brewing, and the two largest breweries in the city are 23rd Street Brewery and Free State Brewing Company, which is the company that got the whole craft brewing movement going in Kansas and is highly regarded nationally in the industry.
That sure seems like a lot of breweries in Lawrence, but perhaps the town is about to cross a threshold where it becomes a craft brewery destination. Already downtown Lawrence becomes a destination for craft beer aficionados each spring with the Kansas Craft Brewers Exposition.
As for the type of brewery that Trettel plans to operate, he said it will be relatively small. He doesn’t plan to have an operation that sells beer at multiple locations, but rather wants to brew just enough beer to serve the restaurant’s needs. The brewery, though, should be a sight to see. Trettel is designing the project so the beer making process is highly visible to restaurant patrons. The smaller of the two existing buildings on the site will be used as part of the brewery operations. It will house a grain mill and grain pump that will feed grain into the main brewery area, which will be housed in a new addition onto the small building. The new addition and the grain mill will be visible to restaurant patrons.
The layout of the site also is expected to create two large courtyards for the restaurant. The southern courtyard along Ninth Street will have lots of room for outdoor dining, while the northern courtyard will be more secluded and is expected to have bocce courts and other such features, Trettel said.
In terms of food and other details about the restaurant, Trettel — who grew up working in a restaurant and has designed several of them — wasn’t yet ready to divulge much on that front. It does sound like he has a chef on board and is far along in the creation of a menu.
“It will not be bar food,” Trettel said. “It will be a very clean, healthy, local menu, uniquely prepared by a master chef.”
The project still has to win some approvals, though, before it becomes reality. First up will be design approval from the Historic Resources Commission. Trettel said he’s emphasizing that he’s not making major changes to the two existing buildings on the site, and the new addition will be done within historic guidelines. His construction and design firm does extensive work with historic properties.
Here’s a look at some of the proposed changes, courtesy Trettel and the packet of information he has submitted to City Hall. First a look at the overall site. Note that the new 2,200 square-foot expansion features a green roof.
Next, a view of the project from Ninth Street.
Here’s a view from Pennsylvania Street.
And finally, here’s a view from inside, showing some of the brewery equipment in the background.
If the project wins all approvals in a timely fashion, Trettel hopes to begin construction on the project in the fall.
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.
Developer of Poehler building looking to file plans for new 34-unit affordable apartment project in East Lawrence
Tonight will be another big night for the Warehouse Arts District, which is what the area around the old Poehler Building at Eighth and Pennsylvania streets is being called.
As we reported last week, city commissioners tonight will consider investing several hundred thousand dollars into infrastructure repairs in the area to accommodate the latest phase of the project.
But the project will be well worth watching beyond tonight. The district’s lead developer, Tony Krsnich, confirmed to me that he soon will file plans for a brand new 34-unit apartment building for the area.
Krsnich said he has completed a deal to buy the vacant property directly south of the Poehler Building from Lawrence landowner Harold Shepherd. (If you are familiar with the area, the property is the one with the big Cottonwood tree on it, near the new city-built parking lot for the area.
The project isn’t an entirely done deal, though. Krsnich said he’ll file plans next month with the Kansas Housing Resources Corporation, which is the group that hands out federal tax credits for affordable housing projects.
The housing credit program is a competitive one, and the Lawrence project will be competing against others across the state. Krsnich, though, had luck in winning credits from the program when he converted the old Poehler building into a 49-unit affordable apartment project.
It looks like Krsnich also is trying to sweeten the pot a bit with this application. He said the plans call for Lawrence-based Tenants to Homeowners to be a partner on this project. I haven’t yet had a chance to talk to the leaders of Tenants to Homeowners to find out exactly what its role will be, but the organization has a lot of credibility in the affordable housing sector in the state.
Krsnich also can point to the fact that demand for rent-controlled apartments in the Poehler building has been very strong. The project had all its leases filled within about 12 hours of taking applications.
“I think I’ll have this project filled up in about 11 hours,” said Krsnich, who said he at one point had a waiting list of about 100 for the Poehler project.
If the new project does get tax credits — and I’m not sure it will move forward if it doesn’t — the apartments will be required to be rent-controlled for at least 30 years. I’m not sure exactly which tax credit program the project will apply for, but most of them work in such a way that rents must be deemed affordable for households earning 60 percent or less of the local median income.
If you are not familiar with how the tax credit program works, projects like this one are awarded tax credits that they then can sell to investors who want to reduce their tax liabilities. The state’s Web site estimates that developers currently are receiving about 77 cents on the dollar for each $1 worth of tax credits.
Developers use the money from the sale of the tax credits to invest in their projects, which reduces the amount of debt they have to take out and makes it feasible to rent apartments at below market-rate rents.
I believe the state has about $60 million in tax credits available to award this year. It looks like winners will be announced in May.