Soul food restaurant opens in eastern Lawrence; don’t let signs of redevelopment worry you at The Bottleneck; more than $200K of traffic calming considered for 27th Street
I try to keep my ear to the ground when it comes to new restaurants in town, and now I’ve found one where you can keep an ear to your mouth too. A soul food restaurant has opened in the shopping center at 19th and Haskell, and one of its menu items is a unique pig ear sandwich.
Kingfish Soul Food and Bistro opened a couple of months ago at 1910 Haskell. The owner simply gives his name as Kingfish, and who am I to press harder? (Ask the pig how well that works. Just be sure to speak really loudly.) He said he had worked for about 20 years with the noted soul food restaurant Niecie’s in Kansas City, Mo. He said he was looking for an opportunity of his own, and his wife had connections to the Lawrence area.
“And you guys have never had soul food here before,” Kingfish said. “People are catching on to it.”
Don’t worry, you don’t have to embrace the idea of a pig ear sandwich in order to be a soul food fan. The menu includes a lot of other dishes you may be more familiar with. Among the top sellers are catfish nuggets and filets, meatloaf, fried chicken, and a specialty dish called the Kansas City Po Boy. That involves a sandwich stuffed with catfish, tomato, shredded lettuce and Louisiana sauce.
Other dishes that you may not commonly find at other restaurants include liver and onions, a neck bone entree, grits, greens, yams, and sweet potato pie for dessert.
Kingfish said many of the recipes he learned from his grandmother and uncle, who both were longtime cooks. He said what’s really neat about the recipes, though, is how they’ve been passed down through the generations.
“Soul food has been around for at least 400 years,” Kingfish said. “People used to call it slave food, and now it has grown into a great American culinary tradition.”
The restaurant is open from noon to 10 p.m., Tuesday through Saturday.
In other news and notes from around town:
• Let’s face it: There have been times all of us have wished we had an extra ear when we’ve attended a really loud concert at The Bottleneck.
Some of you may have noticed recently that there is a city-issued sign in the window alerting folks of pending development coming to the site. No need to worry, though. Nothing major is happening to the longtime bar and music venue at 737 New Hampshire St.
Instead, the venue has applied to add sidewalk seating to the establishment. New Hampshire Street is undergoing significant redevelopment, so I wanted to stop rumors before they got started. It used to be that only restaurants were eligible for sidewalk seating areas in downtown. But the city changed that requirement a few years ago. Bars now are eligible in some instances, and there are a few who have taken advantage of it.
In case you are keeping a scorecard of sidewalk seating issues in downtown, I might as well note that the city also has received an application from KC Smoke Burgers, the relatively new restaurant at 1008 Massachusetts St. City commissioners are expected to hear that request in the next week or so.
• Some speed humps and traffic calming circles may be in the future for a busy section of 27th Street in southern Lawrence.
City commissioners at their meeting on Tuesday will receive a report on how much it would cost to build some traffic calming devices on 27th Street between Iowa and Louisiana streets. The estimate: $170,000 to $230,000. None of the money currently is in the city’s budget.
But the issue of traffic on 27th Street has become a hot one ever since the Kansas Department of Transportation temporarily closed 31st Street west of Ousdahl as part of the South Lawrence Trafficway project. The amount of traffic on 27th Street has increased substantially as motorists have looked for other ways to get between Iowa and Louisiana streets. How substantial? Well, in 2012 — prior to the 31st Street closing — average traffic volumes were about 3,300 cars per day, I believe. The report didn’t specify per day but I think that is the case, and am working to confirm it. The city rechecked the street a few days ago and found average traffic volumes had grown to 9,450 vehicles. Average speeds were around 35 mph on the street, which is surrounded by residences.
City engineers report that a number of traffic calming devices could be appropriate for the street. There are traffic calming circles, which are smaller than roundabouts, but they cost about $50,000 apiece. The city said traffic calming circles may be appropriate at 27th and Ridge Court and 27th and Alabama. Speed cushions, a man-made bump in the road, also could work on the street, at the price of about $8,000 per cushion. Engineers have identified five locations for cushions on 27th Street.
Although not technically traffic calming devices, engineers said there are other improvements that could be made to improve pedestrian safety in the neighborhood. Those include a $60,000 pedestrian hybrid beacon, which allows pedestrians to push a button and activate a traffic signal. That would be near the area where the Naismith Park trail intersects with 27th Street. Another improvement would be to construct a sidewalk on the north side of 27th Street between Belle Haven and Arkansas Street. That has an estimated cost of $80,000.
One issue to keep in mind, though, is that it is unlikely any of these improvements could be constructed prior to 31st Street reopening to traffic. KDOT has estimated that 31st Street west of Louisiana Street will reopen midsummer. City engineers estimate it would take a “couple of months” to design the improvements on 27th Street and “several months” to construct the improvements.
There has been a suggestion that the city simply add some stop signs along the 27th Street route. City engineers, though, have offered some caution on that strategy. “Stop signs are not considered a traffic calming device since they do not physically require a motorist to adjust their driving,” David Woosley, the city’s traffic engineer wrote in a memo to commissioners. “In fact, studies have shown that they can have the opposite effect by increasing midblock speeds.”
I’ll work to check in with some city commissioners and residents in the neighborhood to find out what they’re thinking about the latest proposal.
Retail sales in the city up 3 percent for the year; SLT opponents organizing “occupation” event at the wetlands
There must have been a lot of families with back-to-school shopping lists this season much like mine: pencils, erasers, notebooks, diamond earrings. (What's that? I was told it is a necessity that mothers looks stylish at PTO meetings.)
Regardless, the latest sales tax report from Lawrence City Hall shows that something caused a spike in sales during that back-to-school season. The city's September sales tax report — which actually includes sales data from the mid-July to mid-August time period — shows taxable sales in the city were up a whopping 17 percent from September 2012.
I never make too much of one month's worth of data because statistical anomalies can pop up, but the bigger picture also is looking more positive than it did for the city just a few months ago. With nine months of sales tax checks in the bank, retail sales in the city are up 3 percent from the same period a year ago.
Bottomline: Retail sales are growing at a decent clip in Lawrence, but not nearly as fast as they did in 2012. At this time last year, retail sales were up 6 percent. But I can tell you that City Hall officials who rely on sales tax collections for a big part of their budgets are breathing a little easier now. At the midway point of 2013, retail sales were up just 1.7 percent for the year, and it was uncertain whether the city's sales tax collection would meet budget for the year.
It appears more likely that the city will make its budget at this point. With just three more checks to collect in 2013, collections in the city's largest sales tax fund are about 1 percent over budget projections. So, the fourth quarter still will be key, but City Hall budget-makers feel better about their chances than they did a few months ago.
As for how Lawrence stacks up with other cities, it is a mixed bag. The data indicates Lawrence's retail sales growth may be a little bit behind the statewide average. For all jurisdictions that collect a local sales tax, the average growth rate thus far for 2013 has been 3.7 percent compared to 3.0 percent for Lawrence. Here's a look at how some of the larger retail markets in the state have fared year-to-date:
• Emporia: up 3.6 percent
• Hays: down 8.3 percent
• Kansas City: up 5.7 percent
• Manhattan: down 0.1 percent
• Olathe: up 4.5 percent
• Overland Park: up 3.2 percent
• Salina: up 2.9 percent
• Shawnee: up 5.1 percent
• Topeka: up 1.7 percent
Here's a look at some of the smaller markets around Lawrence. The sales totals in these communities are much smaller, so wilder swings are possible. But with nine months in the books, most are having a strong year:
• Baldwin City: up 1.4 percent
• Basehor: up 16 percent
• Eudora: up 14.2 percent
• Ottawa: up 6.9 percent
• Tonganoxie: up 10.0 percent
And finally, here's a look at how Lawrence's retail sales totals year-to-date compare to the same period in past years, and how they have been growing once adjusted for inflation. The number in parenthesis is the inflation-adjusted total for the year:
2013: $1.03 billion 2012: $1.00 billion ($1.02B) 2011: $947.9 million ($985.5M) 2010: $916.5 million ($983.0M) 2009: $930.7 million ($1.01B) 2008: $966.2 million ($1.04B)
So, once adjusted for inflation, Lawrence's retail sales are up about 1 percent for the year, and we're still lagging behind where we were before the economic downturn that hit in late 2008. But don't worry, we'll catch up. I think there is another PTO meeting coming up.
In other news and notes from around town:
• From PTO to WPO — the Wetlands Preservation Organization. As I've been telling you, get ready for some protests out at the Baker Wetlands as roadwork on the South Lawrence Trafficway likely will begin in the wetlands next month. Well, the WPO — which includes a lot of students from Haskell Indian Nations University — is beginning to show its hand in that regard. The organization's Facebook page is advertising an "Occupy the Wakarusa Wetlands" event on Oct. 25 and Oct. 26. According to a flier on the site, the group is encouraging people to camp at the wetlands and "help us protest this atrocity." The website also says the group is trying to "organize resistance and awareness in any way possible," and it even makes reference to the large protests that have gripped the Arab world. "There is an Indian Summer coming this fall," an organizer wrote on the page. "It looks a lot like an Arab Spring."
It will be interesting to watch the changing of the seasons at the wetlands in the coming weeks.
• In the category of notable commercial sales: It looks like one of Lawrence's more renowned music venues has taken a step to secure its future in downtown Lawrence. According to a filing at the Douglas County Register of Deeds, a company led by Brett Mosiman, owner of The Bottleneck, has purchased the building at 737 New Hampshire, which houses the The Bottleneck. The building was owned by a trust in the name of longtime Lawrence attorney Lance Burr.