Papa Keno’s Pizzeria strikes deal to move from its longtime downtown location
photo by: Chad Lawhorn/Journal-World photo
One of Lawrence’s oldest New York-style pizzerias is moving, but don’t worry, you won’t have to get on a new subway line to find it. Papa Keno’s Pizzeria has reached a deal to leave its longtime home on the southern end of downtown for a new location a few blocks north on Massachusetts Street.
David Hawley, who owns the restaurant with his wife, Nora, said the restaurant has finalized a deal to purchase the former Jock’s Nitch building at 837 Massachusetts St. If you recall, Jock’s Nitch moved across the street to the old Ernst & Son Hardware building.
Papa Keno’s has been at its current location at 1035 Massachusetts St. since 1994, but Hawley said the chance to buy a building in downtown and have more space to serve customers was too good of a deal to pass up.
“We do love this location, and customers have a soft spot for this location,” Hawley said. “It will be hard for us to move, but we are at capacity. We get full on the weekends, and people peek in the front door, see a line and choose another option.”
The place does get crowded. The pizzas alone take up a lot of space. The largest pizza on the menu, a Papa, is 26 inches, which is one of the unique aspects about the restaurant, Hawley said.
“Nobody really does that size,” Hawley said. “We have to get custom trays and boxes for it. And that dough, it is hard to throw.”
(I remember that time I threw a 26-inch pizza dough. I’m sure it would have made a great pizza, but, ultimately, I “decided” to be fashion forward and wear it as a summer hat instead.)
The 26-inch pizza is what’s used by Papa Keno’s to make its popular by-the-slice order, which long has been advertised as “big as your face.” (That’a very memorable ad slogan but causes me great consternation every time I ask my mirror, mirror on the wall that famous question. Now it routinely answers a double pepperoni with Italian sausage.)
The pizza-by-the slice business won’t change with the move, Hawley said. The menu features about 40 toppings — including the traditional pizza fare, plus more premium toppings like feta and blue cheeses, artichoke hearts, almonds, roasted garlic cream sauce, sauerkraut, buffalo sauce and even roasted broccoli.
Hawley said he thought the variety of offerings and the way Papa Keno’s went about makings its pizzas had been big parts of the restaurant’s success over the years.
“It is about the art of cooking on a deck oven,” Hawley said of the key to making a good New York-style pizza, which features a thin crust. “It is about understanding the dough and that yeast is a living thing and mastering the time of the rise. It is about knowing how to move the pie through the oven and take advantage of the hot and cool spots. None of it is just spit off a conveyor belt, that’s for sure.”
photo by: Chad Lawhorn/Journal-World photo
Hawley said he thought the biggest change customers would notice at the new location was more indoor seating. The current location is capped at 50 seats. He hopes the new location will have 80 to 90 indoor seats. He plans for the back part of the building to be geared more toward kids and families, with a few more arcade games and a play area. The restaurant plans to have a larger than normal sidewalk seating area also. Preliminary plans call for some changes to the bay windows of the building, which will allow for a deeper than normal sidewalk seating area, Hawley said.
The new space also will allow for a much larger kitchen, which Hawley said should allow the restaurant to expand its delivery area. Currently, delivery is offered only east of Iowa Street. With the new location, Hawley hopes to stretch farther west. A larger expansion into west Lawrence, though, may come a bit later. Hawley said he would like to open a restaurant on that side of town some day.
“Once the dust settles on this project, we would like to have a westside location at some point,” he said.
The company is in growth mode. Papa Keno’s was founded in 1992. A group of investors that included people involved with the Jefferson’s and Quinton’s restaurants in Lawrence bought the pizza restaurant in 2012. Hawley was part of that group, but by 2014 he started buying out the other partners, and now he and his wife are the sole owners. They’ve had some success franchising Papa Keno’s in other cities.
There are now franchise locations in Overland Park, Kansas City’s Crossroads and Westport districts, and Des Moines, Iowa. Hawley said other deals were close to being completed. He said the new Lawrence restaurant would serve as a model for how new stores could be designed and operated.
“This is a substantial investment for us,” Hawley said of the building purchase. “But we really feel tied to the community, and this sets it up to be our home for a long time.”
Hawley said he hoped renovation work could begin in the coming weeks and that the new location would be operational before summer.