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.
I’ve certainly been getting questions about what is happening with Which Wich, a sandwich chain that we have reported is locating in the shopping center at 2540 Iowa St. (That’s the one next to Applebee’s.) We reported months ago that the location was under construction, and looked fairly complete. But the sandwich shop has never opened.
Well, it looks like it soon will. New signs have been put in place advertising that interviews are taking place on site this week to staff the restaurant. I managed to get in touch with an executive with the owner of the local franchise for the Lawrence Wich Which, and he told me he hopes to have the store open the second week of August. He said the project was delayed a bit, but that was only because the company has several projects it is working on at once, which caused a few things to move slower at the Lawrence location.
The franchise company, in case you are interested, is Leiszler Oil Company, which is a Manhattan-based group that has been in the convenience store business for a long time but has expanded into other areas such as Wich Which franchises, Dunkin' Donut franchises and other such opportunities.
As for Wich Which, as we have reported, it is a sandwich chain that got started in Dallas in 2003 and has been growing rapidly ever since. The company makes sub sandwiches but does so in a way that's a bit different from, for example, Subway. Customers go to a wall that is full of empty bags. Each bag has a different number that corresponds to a broad category, such as ham, beef, chicken, seafood, vegetarian, Italian and other types of sandwiches.
Then, you take a Sharpie pen and start marking up the bag with your specific sandwich instructions, like your choice of toppings and such.
In other news and notes from around town:
• Look for Texas Roadhouse to soon open its Lawrence location as well. The steakhouse/Western dining chain (I think just created a new restaurant category) has signs up announcing that they are now hiring to staff the Lawrence location. Usually, an opening is just a few weeks away at that point.
In case you have forgotten, Texas Roadhouse is locating where Saints Pub + Patio formerly was located near 23rd and Iowa streets. Or maybe some of you remember it as where Old Chicago Pizza used to be located.
The project has greatly changed the look of the shopping center, which has struggled with some vacancy in recent years. It will be interesting to see if this development sparks further redevelopment in the center. Here’s a look at the building, for those of you who haven’t driven by recently.
I’m guessing many of you are familiar with Texas Roadhouse. If not, get ready for a fairly high-energy dining option. As I described it in September when we first reported the chain was coming to town: Among its signature offerings are free peanuts in the shell that you are encouraged to throw on the floor (warning: my wife may still yell at you,) all-you-can-eat dinner rolls, and the staff sporadically begins line dancing. (Originally, I thought that was an effort to get me to pack up my sleeping bag and quit ordering rolls, but I’m told that is just part of the routine.)
As for the food, the restaurant offers a variety of hand-cut steaks ranging from sirloins to ribeyes to T-bones at price points from about $10 to $25. Ribs also are a big part of the menu, as well as plenty of country sides such as potatoes almost anyway you like them, their version of a blooming onion and hand-battered, deep-fried pickles.
• Perhaps there is a strategy for Southern states to slowly invade Lawrence. First Texas Roadhouse, and now I have news of an Oklahoma-based bank that is opening in Lawrence.
RCB Bank has taken ownership of all the CornerBank locations in Kansas, including the small office CornerBank operates at 1201 Wakarusa Drive.
RCB is based out of Claremore, Okla. It is a sizable operation. It operates 51 branches in Oklahoma and Kansas. CornerBank once made a push to establish itself in Lawrence with a fairly large branch in west Lawrence, but it then moved out of that location and began operating a more limited-service banking office off Wakarusa Drive.
I’ve got a call into an official with RCB Bank to inquire whether it plans to increase its presence in Lawrence in the future. I’ll let you know if I hear more. The press release from the bank said customers will see no interruption in service as the transition occurs.
The deal includes CornerBank’s nine location in Lawrence, Arkansas City, Winfield, Douglass, Oxford, Wellington and Wichita.
Perhaps you are like me and the last few summers of roadwork have conditioned you to travel south Iowa Street only by drone. Well, if you haven’t been on the busy street for awhile, there are lots of changes happening along the roadway. We’ve reported on the projects in the past, but here’s an update on several:
— Yet another reason to get the spurs out of the closet: Construction has started on a new Texas Roadhouse restaurant. We reported in September that Texas Roadhouse had filed plans to build a new restaurant on the former site of Saints Pub + Patio near 23rd and Iowa street. Then the project became a bit like a Texas Longhorn football season: Much anticipation without much sign of progress. (Yes, it does take a certain amount of fortitude as a Jayhawk to make jokes about other football teams.) But construction work is now well underway. Here’s a look at the construction scene and also a rendering of what the finished product will be, according to plans filed with the city.
— Of course those are fried chicken crumbs in my whiskers. But now there’s a different brand of crumbs in there. Yes, Raising Cane’s has opened its restaurant at 2435 Iowa St. In case you have forgotten, the restaurant specializes in chicken fingers, french fries and some type of special dipping sauce. The restaurant had a crowd of folks waiting outside this morning as part of some promotion where a limited number of people get free chicken for a year, or something like that.
— We are equal opportunity here when it comes to fried chicken, so I am now obligated to provide you an update on Popeyes, which is building its first Lawrence location at 26th and Iowa streets. The exterior of the store looks pretty much complete, but I would say an opening is more than a few days away. It appears concrete for the parking lot hasn’t been poured yet.
— Let’s not forget about pizza. It's such an under appreciated food source in this university community. Well, a new pizza place has opened on south Iowa. As we reported in January, the pizza chain Pie Five planned to locate at 2500 Iowa St., which is the office building just north of the Applebee’s. Well, that renovation is complete, and the pizza shop opened on Friday. The restaurant’s calling card is that it will make a handmade pizza in five minutes.
— In between Popeyes and Pie Five is the Tower Plaza shopping center that houses First Watch and several other businesses. As we have reported, it was scheduled to receive a facelift. That facelift now is largely complete. The center does have a cleaner look to it these days. Look for one new restaurant to open in that center soon. The sandwich chain Which Wich has a sign in its window saying it is now hiring. A look in the window indicated most of the work on that new restaurant is largely complete.
— With all these new restaurants, I don’t know when we would ever find the time to go the gym, but work is progressing on the Planet Fitness facility that is going into the old Discovery Furniture building at 25th and Iowa streets.
Greg Henson, the managing partner for the gym, said the project is on track to open in mid-June. Henson said 40-flat screen TVs just arrived for the gym, and ultimately the 22,000 square-foot facility will have about 50 treadmills, 25 elliptical machines, 10 bikes, and other pieces of cardio and weight equipment. You perhaps have seen activity at the site that leads you to believe the facility open. It is not, although it has an office that is open for membership sales.
As for the forecast for summer roadwork on Iowa Street, we did have an update on that too. Construction work is underway near 27th and Iowa streets to replace a waterline. That work, which has one northbound lane closed near the intersection, is scheduled to last until June 12. The street then will fully reopen for a bit until a repaving project from 24th to 29th streets gets underway in July.
I hope the drone can carry the extra chicken weight.
New sandwich shop coming to southern Lawrence; car dealership buys property along south Iowa Street; advocate to sell KU versus Kentucky basketball tickets to raise money for affordable housing
There’s a new sandwich chain coming to south Iowa Street, and I’ll be honest, it has me worrying about my penmanship. The sandwich chain Which Wich is coming to a shopping center near 26th and Iowa streets, and will bring its unique concept that involves customers writing out their own orders with a Sharpie.
Which Wich is going into the Tower Plaza property, the shopping center that includes First Watch and that is next door to Applebee's on south Iowa. In recent weeks, we’ve reported that and the quick order pizza shop Pie Five also are going into the center, which currently is undergoing a major renovation.
Which Wich is a sandwich chain that got started in Dallas in 2003 and has been growing rapidly ever since. The company makes sub sandwiches but does so in a way that's a bit different from, for example, Subway. Customers go to a wall that is full of empty bags. Each bag has a different number that corresponds to a broad category, such as ham, beef, chicken, seafood, vegetarian, Italian and other types of sandwiches.
Then, you take a Sharpie pen and start marking up the bag with your specific sandwich instructions, like your choice of toppings and such. This part excites me because, for reasons we don’t need to get into at the moment, I am specifically prohibited from possessing a Sharpie at home. The process ends by you marking your name on the bag, taking it to the counter and then waiting for your name to be called. This part concerns me because I doubt the restaurant will have a specialist in hieroglyphics on staff, which many a member of the Journal-World newsroom will tell you is a necessity if you hope to read my handwriting.
After you're done eating your sandwich, the restaurant encourages you to keep playing with the Sharpie by drawing on the back of your sandwich bag and then hanging it up in special part of the store. (Warning: Sharpies use permanent ink, or something pretty close to it. There’s a year’s worth of photos of me wearing a stocking cap pulled low over my forehead to prove it.)
As for the sandwiches, the company’s website indicates there are lot of options to choose from. There are Hawaiian and Cuban style ham sandwiches, barbecue pork sandwiches, cheesesteaks, corned beef, reuben, chicken parmesan, muffulettas, gyros, five different styles of Italian sub sandwiches, and some more unique offerings such as an Elvis Wich, which includes peanut butter, bacon, honey and bananas, and a Monte Cristo, which is ham, turkey, grape jelly and a sprinkling of powdered sugar.
The company also offers a speciality sandwich called the Wicked, which features five different meats. The restaurant gained some national notoriety in 2010 when a customer dislocated his jaw when trying to bite into a double-meat version of the Wicked sandwich. (I believe the Sharpie came in particularly handy then. I think he wrote 9-1-1 on his forehead, but I might have that confused with another incident.)
The restaurant also offers breakfast sandwiches and serves malts and milkshakes. The restaurant will be the company’s first in Lawrence. It has opened restaurants in Emporia and Manhattan, and has one in the Wesport district of Kansas City, Mo.
A sign has gone up announcing the restaurant is coming to Tower Plaza, but I don’t have a timeline on when to expect an opening.
In other news and notes from around town:
• It is time to keep an eye on the south Iowa Street property that houses Advanced Homecare/Breathe Oxygen & Medical Supply. A company led by the owner of the Briggs Auto Group recently has purchased the Breathe property at 2851 Iowa St. and 2101 W. 28th Terrace, according to land records at the Douglas County Courthouse.
Those two properties are right in the heart of the Lawrence Auto Plaza, where Briggs currently operates a number of dealerships. I called Briggs’ headquarters in Manhattan. A spokeswoman there confirmed the purchase but said details on what the company plans to do with the property aren’t yet ready to be released. But she said Russell Briggs, owner of the auto group, did say “something is in the air,” and he plans to share more information in the coming weeks.
The Breathe Oxygen & Medical Supply store remains open at the location. A company official with Breathe didn’t return phone calls seeking comment.
It will be interesting to watch what Briggs has in mind for the property, which has high visibility from south Iowa Street. In recent years, Briggs has spent millions of dollars renovating and updating its existing dealership locations in Lawrence.
• Speaking of spending millions of dollars, that probably will be the case when the Kentucky basketball team comes to town to take on the Jayhawks on Jan. 30 at Allen Fieldhouse. (I figure we’ll spend $1 million alone just buying enough film to make sure we capture all the antics of Kentucky super fan Ashley Judd.)
Well, one Lawrence resident is wanting to make sure some of that money for the big game goes towards helping solve the community’s affordable housing problem. Steve Ozark, an owner of a Lawrence-based talent company and a longtime advocate for the homeless and affordable housing, is donating his two tickets to the KU-Kentucky basketball game for the local nonprofit Tenants to Homeowners to sell. Ozark said 100 percent of the money raised through the sale of the tickets will be given to the city of Lawrence’s Affordable Housing Trust Fund, which just recently received a new board of directors appointed by the city.
The board is in the early stages of coming up with an idea for a pilot project that could demonstrate how the community can offer more affordable housing options.
“I figured the biggest rematch at Allen Fieldhouse in modern history would be an opportunity to draw attention to the shortage of affordable housing in Lawrence and the need for a dedicated revenue source for the Affordable Housing Trust Fund,” Ozark said via email.
The city’s trust fund has dwindled to about $100,000, in part because the City Commission hasn’t determined a dedicated revenue stream for the fund.
As for the basketball tickets, the pair of tickets will go on eBay tonight at 9 p.m., and bidding will last through 9 p.m. Jan. 24. You can find out the specifics about the tickets and get to the appropriate location to bid by searching "KU/KY Basketball Tickets" on eBay's homepage.
There’s no telling how much the tickets may bring. The KU vs Kentucky game is definitely a hot ticket. Tickets on the reselling site StubHub start at about $500 and quickly go up from there. There are several tickets for sale at $3,000 and above. There are even 12 tickets for sale in the center G section of Allen Fieldhouse — right near the floor — that are priced at $27,000 apiece.