Add a fancy ramen noodle maker to the sights you soon will be able to see in downtown Lawrence. (Fancy ramen noodle maker? In college, I guess that meant I’d actually be wearing something other than my pajamas while boiling the water.) Now, I know it means something different, and it soon will be on display as a Lawrence noodle shop moves its business to Massachusetts Street.
Ramen Bowls has signed a deal to move from its longtime home at 125 E. 10th St. to a new location at 918 Massachusetts St. The restaurant is moving into the space that briefly was home to Harold’s, a restaurant that was trying to make its name by selling fried chicken, doughnuts and whiskey. (I think at least one of those three items also was part of my fancy ramen noodle recipe.)
Shantel Grace, a co-owner of Ramen Bowls, told me the restaurant is moving because it has outgrown its space on 10th Street.
“Our kitchen is less than 250 square feet currently,” Grace said. “What they work through is pretty crazy. We had so many customers who didn’t feel like they could come for lunch because they didn’t want to wait in line.”
The new restaurant will be about 3,000 square feet, or about double the restaurant’s current space.
In addition to more seating and a larger kitchen, the extra space will allow the restaurant to showcase a piece of equipment you don’t see every day: an authentic Japanese ramen noodle maker.
Ramen Bowls makes all of its noodles from scratch using a rather large stainless steel machine that cranks out about a thousand 5-ounce noodle servings every six hours. The restaurant currently has to rent a separate space to make its noodles. That will change, however, with the new restaurant.
“In the new space we will move the noodle maker out front so people can see what the process looks like,” Grace said.
The restaurant also will use the extra space to house a larger bar area. Grace said Ramen will partner with its sister company, Luckyberry Juice Cafe at 845 Massachusetts St. Grace is part of the ownership of that approximately 3-month old business. The bar at Ramen Bowls will use cold-pressed juices made at Luckyberry for specialty cocktails. Grace said she is working on a cocktail with dark rum, cold-pressed grapefruit and rosemary. Plus, she said the bar would have a variety of tiki cocktails that will use the Luckyberry juice.
The juice isn’t the first time the two businesses have partnered. Luckyberry has a soup bar that is stocked with soups that are made by the kitchen staff at Ramen Bowls, Grace said.
Ramen Bowl’s pending move from 10th Street, however, will end one cool idea: rooftop dining in downtown Lawrence. As we’ve reported, Ramen Bowls was working with its landlord on 10th Street — Lawrence businessman Jeff Shmalberg — to add a rooftop bar and dining area to the building.
But that idea was slow-moving, as it required a hefty amount of engineering work to win approval from City Hall. However, city planners were open to the idea, which maybe wouldn’t have been the case five or 10 years ago. Ramen Bowls and Shmalberg, though, hadn’t yet settled on a plan that was cost effective. Grace said Ramen Bowls won’t be trying to create a rooftop area at its new location.
“We were so excited about it, but the fear was that it would be pretty seasonal,” Grace said. “Logistically it was a bit more involved than we thought. We decided that the difficulty outweighed the cool factor. But I think somebody will do it, someday, and it will be a big hit when it happens.”
As for the pending move, Grace said she hopes Ramen Bowls will be operating in the new location in early December.
In other news and notes from around town:
• While we are talking about restaurant news, add another one to the list that has closed after trying Lawrence for a fairly short time. Which Wich has closed its location at 2540 Iowa St., which is the strip mall next to Applebee’s. The restaurant, which opened in the summer of 2016, was a sub sandwich shop. Its calling card was the unique way you ordered your sandwich. You took an empty paper bag and a Sharpie and then started marking on the bag the various ingredients you wanted on your sandwich. I like my sandwiches really big, so I would give them one of those large paper yard waste bags. Maybe that is what scared them off.
Juice cafe with locally grown salad bar coming to downtown; Lawrence startup pitching Uber-like app for restaurants; update on rooftop dining
Maybe ramen noodles are the ultimate energy food, although that reopens the mystery about why I overslept for so many college classes. Regardless, the owners of Lawrence’s popular Ramen Bowls restaurant have plenty of energy, as evidenced by two ambitious projects: A new downtown eatery, and a tech startup that hopes to bring an Uber-like vibe to a key part of the restaurant industry.
First, the new eatery. Shantel Grace, an owner of Ramen Bowls, has confirmed it has signed a deal to open Lucky Berry Juice Cafe in the downtown space formerly occupied by TCBY, near Ninth and Massachusetts.
Look for the cafe to have a variety of “cold-pressed” fruit and vegetable juices. But perhaps its truly unique offering will be an organic, locally grown salad bar.
“Our goal is definitely for the salad bar to be 100 percent locally grown, especially during the growing season,” said Grace, who acknowledged the bar likely will have to rely on some shipped-in produce during the winter.
In addition to the standard greens that come on a salad bar, the cafe plans to make some unique and fresh salad dressings with the juice that is pressed on site. Plus, Grace said the salad bar will feature some of the homemade ramen noodles that are made at Ramen Bowls. A few grab-and-go sushi dishes also will be available.
The restaurant also is buying the frozen yogurt machines that were part of the TCBY shop. Plans calls for the machines to offer frozen fruit smoothies. In case that is not enough fruit for you, the cafe plans to bring a West Coast fruit trend to downtown: Acai bowls. The bowls are a combination of acai berries, and a host of other ingredients such as bananas, strawberries, local honey, Greek yogurt, fresh coconut or other combinations.
One other possible twist for the cafe is a liquor license that would allow for a few speciality cocktails that would be made with the fresh juices. Grace, though, said that part of the business won’t overtake the primary purpose of the shop.
“We really want to set ourselves up as an urban farm stand that sells fresh-pressed juice,” she said.
She said the business model also hopes to succeed by not only selling the complex juice blends that can be a bit pricey, but also by selling simple, affordable juices.
“One thing we hope to have on tap is O.J.,” she said. “We want fresh-pressed orange juice available for kids or other people anytime. I want families to be able to come in here and have an affordable salad bar and some juices that are $2 or less.”
Grace — who is partnering with her husband, Tim, and downtown entrepreneur Dalton Paley on the cafe — hopes to have the location open sometime in June.
• Next, the idea of an Uber-like service for the restaurant industry. No, I’m not talking about making the Uber driver take you through the Taco Bell drive-thru at all hours of the night.
The same trio that is opening the juice cafe also has teamed up to create a new tech startup, FoodDrinkHire, that recently was invited to make a pitch to angel investors at one of the country’s larger tech conferences.
The company is developing a mobile app that will allow restaurant owners and potential restaurant employees to connect. One part of the app will function like a traditional job-listing website, although it will specialize in restaurant jobs.
But the more innovative part of the app is an “instant hire” function. Here is a scenario: You own a restaurant, and the employee who washes the dishes doesn’t show up. You must have a dishwasher that night, so you post your predicament on FoodDrinkHire. In theory, there will be a pool of available dishwashers — just like there are a pool of available Uber drivers — who are ready to take a job at a moment’s notice.
Grace acknowledges that system won’t work for all types of restaurant jobs. You’re likely not going to hire a chef or even a server through that type of method. But dishwashers, hosts, delivery drivers, and some types of prep cooks all may be good possibilities.
The idea grew out of a problem that restaurants frequently have: High turnover and employees who quit with little to no notice. Grace said some studies have shown that 50 percent of the time a restaurant has at least one employee who has not shown up for a shift.
“Whether we do this project or somebody else does, the industry needs this idea to happen,” Grace said.
Grace said the company has developed a beta version of the app, but said the company now needs more programming expertise, funding, and assistance from tech experts. The company submitted its idea to the prestigious Collision Conference in New Orleans, which is an event that attracts several thousand tech investors, programmers and other industry leaders. The company was chosen to make a pitch at the conference, and is being paired up with a tech industry executive who will provide some guidance to the company, Grace said.
“We’re at the point where we need to raise money, we need to hire programmers, we need someone to help us through the process,” she said. “The mountains are huge. I don’t know how far we’ll get, but we wanted to give this idea a try. There’s a real need for it.”
• While we are talking about the folks from Ramen Bowls, you may remember that I reported in November that they had filed plans to add rooftop dining to their building at 125 E. 10th St. Well, that project is progressing, but slowly.
The plan to add a dining area and bar atop the Ramen Bowls restaurant has won the necessary City Hall approvals, Grace said. But the first round of construction bids to build the facility came in higher than expected. Several structural and safety improvements have to be completed before the city will allow a dining area on a roof.
Grace said Ramen Bowls and the building’s owner — a group led by Lawrence businessman Jeff Shmalberg — are re-examining the design and looking for changes that can be made to reduce the costs. Grace said she is still hopeful the project can proceed, but said it won’t be happening in the near term.
“In reality, it would be at least a year before we could do it,” she said.
Restaurant files plans to become first in downtown to have rooftop dining; popular KC restaurant closes its Lawrence location
I won’t even tell you how I got assigned rooftop dining-for-one this Thanksgiving. (I will say I thought it was well understood that certain rules of civility were temporarily suspended when only one scoop of potatoes remained.) Rooftop dining, however, isn’t always a banishment, but rather is big business for many downtowns. A Lawrence restaurant has filed plans with City Hall in hopes of bringing the concept here.
The folks at Ramen Bowls have filed plans to add rooftop dining to their building at 125 E. 10th St. If all goes according to plan, the restaurant hopes by spring to have a dining area to accommodate around 40 people, and a full bar area. The idea was sparked by a need to expand but a desire to stay in its current location, said co-owner Shantel Grace.
“We thought, what do they do in other cities?” Grace said. “They just go up.”
Indeed many downtowns do allow rooftop dining. I know I once spent a good part of a football weekend atop a Boulder, Colo., bar and restaurant. I even came to an unmistakable conclusion: Boulder is more beautiful during basketball season.
The idea of rooftop dining has come up before in Lawrence, but it has never made its way out of City Hall. We will see whether city officials give their approval to this plan, but it looks like it has a chance.
Longtime Lawrence businessman and developer Jeff Shmalberg is the driving force behind the idea. Shmalberg, who is the landlord for Ramen Bowls, was one of the key developers who got the ball rolling years ago on the idea of a TIF district to build a parking garage in the 900 block of New Hampshire Street, which eventually helped spur the dense development that has happened recently in the block.
Shmalberg said rooftop dining just seems to make sense in Lawrence, given that expanding the footprint of downtown outward is never easy.
“I think a lot of people are excited about it,” Shmalberg said. “That is why we have to do it right because other people will want to do this too. I think it would be amazing. There are so many rooftops that have an amazing view, but you have to do it safely. You have to do it structurally sound. You have to do it right.”
Indeed, this project will be closely watched. If Ramen Bowls is allowed to have rooftop dining, many other restaurants will follow suit. Look at sidewalk dining as an example of the proliferation that could come. Eventually, the city probably will have to decide whether it wants to limit rooftop seating areas only to restaurants or whether it should be open for bars too.
I didn’t get into that issue, but I did trade messages with Lynne Braddock Zollner, the historic preservation planner who is reviewing the rooftop request. She did not raise many red flags with the application, but also noted that the request must still be reviewed by the city’s Historic Resources Commission. Zollner said some key elements to the request are that the dining area would be setback from the edge of the building considerably and the profile of the dining area would be low. Both of those are important because those factors will limit the visibility of the dining area from the street. Historic preservationists likely will balk at the idea of rooftop dining, if it significantly changes the look of downtown buildings.
Shmalberg said Lawrence-based architect Lance Adams has been working on the design plans for months, and also has been working closely with the Lawrence fire department on other safety considerations. The project will involve much more than just putting some tables and chairs on the roof. New stairways that can serve as fire exits will be required, and new steel beams will be put in place to carry the additional load, rather than relying on the roof to do so. In addition, the roof will be plumbed for a bathroom and, importantly, the bar area.
Grace said having the full bar on the roof will be a selling point for customers. She and her husband, Tim, hope to convert the rooftop area into a space that has a bit of a Hawaiian feel, similar to some of the classier establishments they were familiar with when they lived on the islands.
“Tiki drinks and cocktails. Rum will be a part of what we do,” Grace said, although she said the restaurant won’t try to create a stereotypical tiki bar atmosphere. “But our vision is a space that is very connected to Hawaii.”
Hawaiian sunshine may be tough to come by year-around, though. Grace said figuring out how to make the rooftop usable as much as possible is requiring a lot of thought. She said plans call for part of the dining area to be under cover. She said heating devices also can be used to help on cold days. She said really hot and windy Kansas summer days may be the greater challenge. Figuring out how to deal with those seasonal issues probably will determine how prevalent rooftop dining becomes in downtown Lawrence. Compared with sidewalk dining, adding a rooftop space is going to cost a restaurant a lot more money. Grace, though, thinks people will be surprised at what they find once they are allowed on the rooftops.
“It is really beautiful up there,” she said. “You can see Mount Oread and all the red rooftops on campus. I think people are going to love it.”
In case you are not familiar with Ramen Bowls, the restaurant has been open for just more than three years. As you probably already have determined, it serves a different class of Ramen than the 33 cent packages of dried noodles you can buy from area grocery stores. The restaurant makes its own miso and tonkotsu broth each morning. In addition to the Ramen, the menu also includes homemade egg rolls, wontons, dumplings and sautéed soybeans.
“We’re thrilled with how business has been,” Grace said. “We just need more space.”
In other news and notes from around town:
• If your holiday dining plans included crayfish in Lawrence, you may want to rethink — or else get your net and start staking out your spot along the Kaw. The New Orleans style restaurant Jazz has closed its Lawrence location.
According to a sign on the door, the Jazz restaurant at 1012 Massachusetts St. is permanently closed. Jazz is a longtime Kansas City restaurant, featuring a variety of seafood and Creole dishes, plus live music. Its slogan is “Let the good times roll,” which normally is a pretty good attitude for a Lawrence establishment because if there is one thing the university crowd knows how to do, it is roll.
But, for whatever reason, the restaurant didn’t work out in Lawrence. The business had been open only a year before its closing this week. Jazz’s two other restaurants in Kansas City — including the one in The Legends shopping center near the Kansas Speedway — remain open, according to the sign in the door.
Jazz had occupied the downtown building that formerly housed Buffalo Wild Wings. That is a larger than average building for downtown, so it will be interesting to watch what comes in to take its place. If I hear any more on the subject, I’ll let you know.