Lawrence restaurant updates: La Parilla’s new location, plans for a Sandbar Sub shop and 60 years for Johnny’s Tavern
Downtown Lawrence’s restaurant scene is heating up. Here’s a look at a few updates:
• La Parilla has moved into its new location at 724 Massachusetts Street, which formerly was the home of Tapas.
Co-owner Subarna Bhattachan told me recently that the new space gives the Mexican/Latin American restaurant about double the space that it had in its old location at 814 Massachusetts.
But Bhattachan said lots of new space doesn’t mean lots of changes for the restaurant. He and co-owner/co-chef Alejandro Lule decided not to make any changes to the menu.
What you may notice, though, is the restaurant now has a full bar. It also has a second-story dining area, which Bhattachan said may be used for private dining and catering events.
Bhattachan said the restaurant eventually will start hosting some wine tastings featuring vintages from Spain, Chile, and Argentina. Bhattachan said he also wants to look into the idea of doing some rum and tequila tastings. That sounds very interesting, but I doubt I can afford to participate in a tequila tasting. No. Bhattachan didn’t share any prices with me, but it has been my experience that tequila tastings ought to involve bail money.
• Bhattachan confirmed to me that La Parilla — which will turn 15 this summer — wasn’t really looking to move. But the restaurant did not have its lease renewed at 814 Massachusetts.
That’s a good sign that the owner of 814 Massachusetts, veteran landlord George Paley, has another tenant lined up to take the space. Indeed he does.
Paley told me another restaurant is set to take over the space. I don’t have details yet on the name or type of restaurant slated for the location. Paley said the new tenant is someone who grew up in Kansas, but is coming back from the East Coast.
I’ll let you know when I get more details.
• Also in the category of needing more details, is a plan to redevelop the former Mirth Cafe space at 745 New Hampshire. If you remember, Mirth has moved to the old Pepperjack’s Grill location at 10th and New Hampshire streets.
A building permit has been issued to remodel 745 New Hampshire into a space to house a Sandbar Subs shop and a branch for Peoples Bank, according to the paperwork filed at City Hall.
I’ve got calls into representatives with both of those businesses, and will report back when I hear more. What I can tell you, though, is Sandbar Subs already has a presence in Lawrence. The restaurant has locations in the Zarco gas stations on W. Sixth Street and E. 23rd Street. It also has a location in the Zarco station along Interstate 35 in Ottawa.
It has sandwiches or wraps with names like Captain Hook, Pirate Steak, Sammy the Shark and Jimmy the Sailor. The restaurants play beach-lovers' music and have a very tropical theme to them. It's sort of like having Jimmy Buffett serve you a sandwich. (I don’t think the menu is salt free, so evidently he found his lost shaker of salt.)
As I said, no details yet on what the downtown location may involve, but I would be warming up your pirate voice and digging out your eye patch just in case.
I know I said this was going to be a restaurant update, and unless you do something different with your money than I do, Peoples Bank doesn’t fit that bill. But if Peoples indeed is opening another branch downtown, that would be significant. New bank locations were a hallmark of the 1990s and early 2000s when the economy was really humming. Over the past few years, however, it was more common to see a bank consolidate locations — Central National for example pulled out of downtown.
But recently there has been expansion activity. We reported on Baldwin-based MidAmerica Bank signing a deal to open a location on West Sixth Street, and Lawrence Bank will get a nice new facility in downtown as part of the multistory apartment building project slated for the northeast corner of Ninth and New Hampshire.
So, maybe the banking industry is one to keep an eye on again in Lawrence. (I may even have to take this eye patch off.)
• Several of you have been asking for an update on The Roost, which is the breakfast- and lunch-oriented restaurant slated to take over the former space of Milton’s at 920 Massachusetts Street.
Well, Manda Jolly, a partner in the project, told me the restaurant is scheduled to have a late-June to early-July opening. Renovation work is underway.
Some of you may have seen that the restaurant has started a Kickstarter campaign to try to raise $20,000 in funding. That sometimes creates questions about the viability of a project, but Jolly told me some of the building plans for the restaurant would have to be readjusted if the campaign is not successful. Either way, the group is committed to opening the restaurant.
Jolly also gave me some other details about how the menu and ownership group of the restaurant is shaping up, as well as plans to get into the venue rental business are shaping up. I’ll pass those along in a later post.
• And finally, you can’t forget Johnny’s, although there have been times the establishment has made my memory a little fuzzy.
The venerable restaurant and tavern in North Lawrence is celebrating its 60th anniversary this week. There are a handful of old bars in Lawrence, but Johnny’s uses the phrase “the longest running tap in Lawrence,” to describe itself.
The bar will have a special concert on Friday night with Billy Spears and the Beer Bellies, and then will throw an anniversary party on Saturday.
The business got started in 1953 when John Wilson turned his father’s farm implement store into a tavern. For the past 35 years, Lawrence businessman Rick Renfro has been the lead owner of the operation, and has expanded the Johnny’s brand into West Lawrence and the Kansas City metro area.
“It’s extraordinary,” Renfro said of the business’ run. “The average life span of a bar or restaurant is 15 years. I think we have beaten the odds.”
There are a few survival tips I’ve learned in nature: Never stare a feral hog in the eye; don’t get between a bear and her cub; and don’t block a Lawrence resident from his French toast.
That last one is courtesy of David Lewis, the former owner of the one-time downtown breakfast institution Milton’s. (I won’t tell you where the first one came from.)
Lewis confirmed to me that he’s bringing back Milton’s and all its old menu favorites, but it will be in Lewis’s new restaurant location in the ground floor of the 901 Building at Ninth and New Hampshire streets. That restaurant currently is called Loopy’s, but not for long. Lewis said he will rebrand the restaurant to Milton’s, as soon as he can get the details on signs and such worked out.
In November, Lewis closed Milton’s — which had operated for 15 years at 920 Massachusetts Street — and began focusing on the new Loopy’s concept.
Unlike Milton’s, Loopy's was a breakfast, lunch and dinner place that stayed open until 11 p.m. But there was a problem: Breakfast wasn’t what it used to be. It was frittatas, quiches and other similar dishes rather than hashbrowns, over-easy eggs and French toast.
“Our plan is to build on our old menu and really go with the things that have worked for us in the past,” Lewis said. “A lot of customers really missed it. We heard about it everyday since we opened.”
The new menu — which is basically the old menu — is already back in place. Lewis said the new Milton’s is serving breakfast seven days a week, and until 2 p.m. each day.
Unlike the past Milton’s, this location will stay open until 10 p.m. on Friday and Saturday nights, and Lewis said the restaurant is keeping the liquor license it received to operate Loopy’s.
One of the bigger differences with the new Milton’s will be its size. The 901 location has just 28 seats inside, but it has a large patio area than can seat another 32.
“I love the space that we have with the windows and the light,” Lewis said. “We would like to get some nice weather, though, to take advantage of the outdoor seating. I think folks are really going to like that.”
Other changes include removing the pizza oven from the restaurant in order to accommodate the kitchen equipment to cook a full breakfast. The ownership of the operation also has changed. Lawrence chef Sula Teller and her husband, Lawrence marketing executive Billy Pilgrim, are no longer involved with the restaurant.
What hasn’t changed though, is all the old Milton’s recipes. Lewis said 20 of the 22 employees at the restaurant were former Milton’s employees, so the transition to the old dishes has not been difficult.
He said crowds have picked up at the location since the menu was implemented about a week ago.
“The Loopy’s concept just didn’t seem to resonate with a lot of people,” Lewis said. “When we were closing Milton’s, I started to see the sentiment and feelings people had for it. It was really pretty emotional.”
And many people would tell you pretty addictive too. Since its closing, we've heard from many people who seem to be having breakfast food withdrawals. Lewis said that might have something to do with the little bit of brandy that is a key ingredient in the French toast.
Yes, the return of Milton’s may mean downtown Lawrence becomes even more competitive on the breakfast scene. As we previously reported, a former manager of Milton’s is set to open up a breakfast restaurant called The Roost in the former Milton’s location on Massachusetts Street. I haven’t received an update on those efforts in awhile, so I’ll check in and report back.
In the meantime, I need to get my dose of breakfast brandy. Sure, I probably could go for some French toast too.