Lawrence’s South Iowa Street still isn’t going to have a mall, but soon it will have a staple of mall food courts across the country.
Panda Express, the country’s largest quick-service Chinese food restaurant chain, has filed plans to locate in the new building in front of Wal-Mart at the southeast corner of 33rd and Iowa streets.
As previously reported, an AT&T Wireless store will take a portion of the building, and in a little bit of a turn of events, Panda Express will take the rest. At one point, speculation was strong that Chipotle would occupy the building, but it looks as if the nationalities have changed on us.
I don’t have any word yet on when the restaurant may open. (The AT&T store, I’ve been told, is slated to open in March.) The Panda Express filing at City Hall was sparse on details. In fact, it doesn’t spell out that a Panda Express is the tenant, but the architectural plans have a Panda Express logo on them, which is a pretty good indicator.
The restaurant serves a lot of the basic Chinese dishes you are familiar with, such as, Kung Pao Chicken, Mandarin Chicken, and Broccoli and Beef. But it also has some less standard dishes like Honey Walnut Shrimp, Eggplant Tofu, and even some dishes with Angus steak. (Tofu or Angus steak, how am I ever going to decide?)
More interesting than the company’s menu, though, is its back story. I found this recent article on CNN Money that interviews the company’s two founders and co-CEOs, Andrew and Peggy Cherng.
Apparently, they met while in school at Baker University in Baldwin City, in the late 1960s. Both had immigrated to America — Andrew from China via Japan and Peggy from Burma.
Who knows? Maybe the founders will come back to the area for the store’s grand opening. It does appear that they’ve returned to Baker on occasion to help with fundraising at the private university.
If you are like me and enjoy reading about entrepreneurs, the entire CNN article is a pretty good read. It also isn’t too bad of a testimonial on the value of a Baker education. Panda Express, with about 1,500 restaurants, had revenue of about $1.7 billion last year.
Ever since back in July when we reported a new ethnic restaurant that billed itself as the Indian version of a Chipotle was going to open in downtown, I’ve been getting questions about what the heck that means.
Well, soon you’ll be able to find out. Chutney’s at 918 Massachusetts St. is set to open on Monday.
Owner Rasesh Patel said the Chipotle description is still a good one, but that doesn’t mean the restaurant’s menu is going to be full of wraps. Instead, it is just his way of saying that it will be a casual-style, quick-service type of restaurant.
“It is going to be completely different than the typical Indian restaurant you are used to seeing,” Patel said. “It is Indian food, but we are trying to make it a little faster so that it can be food on the go too.”
Patel has been working with a chef out of Chicago who has patented a process for efficiently preparing a variety of Indian dishes.
Now, I don’t know enough about Indian food to even make a good joke here. (I know, you’re asking yourself when the Town Talk standard became that the jokes had to be good.) But in terms of menu items, Patel shared a few details with me. He said the restaurant regularly will offer chicken, beef, lamb and pork dishes, plus bean, rice and other dishes that will qualify as vegetarian, or in some cases, vegan.
Expect to see classic Indian dishes (or so I’m told) such as: Chicken Tikka Masala; Pork Vindaloo (I don’t know how it tastes, but it is fun to say); something called Spinach Paneer, which I believe is a spinach and cottage cheese-like dish; along with some fried-rice based dishes, various types of Indian tea, mango juice and a couple of Indian desserts.
The restaurant also will have a small bar area, but Patel said Kansas liquor laws have made it difficult for him to get the large assortment of Indian beers that he originally planned to stock.
• While we’re updating restaurant news, there was quite a scene last night at a local restaurant that surely says something about Lawrence. It either says we really like the idea of a new restaurant or we’re really cheap, or perhaps both.
Freebirds World Burrito was holding a special preview party at its new restaurant at 739 Massachusetts St. The event featured a free entrée and a drink. When I drove by at 6 p.m., there was a line out the door that stretched the width of two or three downtown stores. And this was in the rain. About an hour later, the line was even longer.
It will be interesting to see what burrito madness takes place today. The restaurant is officially opening tomorrow, and it is offering a promotion that the first 25 people in line will receive free burritos for a year. So, with a forecast of 18 degrees tonight, we’ll soon see just how cheap Lawrence is.
Last night’s event, however, did have a charitable cause connected to it. The Freebirds folks were suggesting a $5 donation to their nonprofit partners in the event, The Lawrence Humane Society and the Boys & Girls Club of Lawrence. So, I’m sure Lawrence last night was lining up in the rain to be charitable, not cheap.