Paisano’s Ristorante sets date to close as plans still call for shopping center to be razed for new convenience store

photo by: Chad Lawhorn/Journal-World Photo

Paisano's Ristorante is shown Aug. 18, 2020. The shopping center at 25th and Iowa streets is the site of a newly filed plan for a large convenience store. Paisano's owner is weighing his options on whether the restaurant will be able to relocate in Lawrence.

Lawrence’s oldest Italian restaurant is set to close by the end of the year — with no plans to reopen elsewhere — as a new convenience store development is set to take its place.

Paisano’s Ristorante permanently will close no later than Dec. 31, owner and operator Steve Butland told me. As we reported in August, development plans for a new Kwik Shop convenience store have been filed for Holiday Plaza Shopping Center at 25th and Iowa streets, which houses Paisano’s and several other businesses.

So, while most of my endings at Italian restaurants usually include a pile of empty bread baskets and a nap before embarking for the car, this one will come with a lost lease and decision by its owners to focus their energy elsewhere.

“It is a sad situation, but obviously the building is going to be razed and something new is going to be in its place,” Butland said. “We are being asked to leave and we are leaving.”

The restaurant is just short of its 25th anniversary in Lawrence, and Butland and his wife have owned it for the last 18 years. When news of the proposed Kwik Shop development emerged in August, Butland was sounding some optimistic notes of finding a new location to reopen Paisano’s.

But this week, he said that is no longer a likely scenario. He said he determined any new location should be relatively close to the restaurant’s existing location; otherwise it would be too much like starting from scratch.

“I haven’t found a site that I’m comfortable with, and I’m not sure I really want to relocate,” Butland said.

Instead, he and his wife plan to focus their energies on the Paisano’s Ristorante they own in Topeka. The restaurant at 10th and Gage has been in operation even longer than the one in Lawrence, and Butland said it is doing “reasonably well, given the environment.”

Given that, the couple decided to end operations in Lawrence, and they made the announcement to employees earlier this week.

“I don’t want to give anyone false hope that we will be open again in six months,” Butland said. “I could reconsider it, but that’s not what the plans are.”

Butland does hope to be open all the way until Dec. 31, but he said that would depend on being able to keep enough staff on board. He said he’s offering jobs to any staff members who want to transfer to the Topeka location. He also said he has already reached out to fellow restaurant owners in Lawrence, asking them to consider giving interviews to his staff, which numbers about 30 employees.

“If I can avoid it, I don’t want to shut down during the holiday season and have people lose their jobs before Christmas,” he said.

Butland is announcing the decision to close even though the deal for the new convenience store project isn’t yet final. I checked with the city’s planning department and an official there confirmed the project’s site plan is still being reviewed. The project has the necessary zoning to move forward, but it does need site plan approval. A site plan process largely is about more technical matters such as parking, landscaping, access points and other such issues, and is approved administratively rather than via a vote of the City Commission. The Wichita-based ownership group for the shopping center, though, seemingly is confident all the details will be approved and the project will move forward.

“It looks like it is an inevitability, and we have lost our lease,” Butland said.

Butland said he has enjoyed serving area diners for all these years, and he hopes some of the restaurant’s customers will make the trip to dine at the Paisano’s in Topeka.

As for other businesses in the shopping center, I know lots of you are interested in the future of La Estrella, which is a taco stand and Mexican food and convenience store that also operates in the center. Owner Adany Perez and her husband, Raul Perez, told me the store has received a letter from the landlords saying they will need to vacate the building by Jan. 31.

photo by: Chad Lawhorn/Journal-World photo

Owners of La Estrella Mexican Store confirmed they’ve received notice from the landlords of Holiday Plaza Shopping Center at 25th and Iowa streets that the store will need to vacate the center by the end of January. The store hopes to move to another location near 23rd and Iowa, but is still working to secure financing. Plans are moving forward for the shopping center to be redeveloped into a convenience store site.

Raul said the store has found a location near 23rd and Iowa streets that it hopes to move to, but it is still working with an area bank to try to arrange financing. The store part of the business has been in operation for 18 years, he said, and the shop added its popular taco stand about three years ago. He said the business very much wants to continue, but he is uncertain whether it will obtain the necessary financing to do so.

The Wine Cellar liquor store is another longtime business that remains open in the center. Owner Steve Berger told me he didn’t have any plans to announce and was continuing to wait to see if the convenience store deal would be finalized.

In terms of the Kwik Shop plans, an official at the city planning department said the details were largely unchanged from the original filing. Those plans showed an 8,300-square-foot convenience store for Kwik Shop, which would make it perhaps the largest convenience store in town. It would have fueling stations for about 10 vehicles, and the site also would have a detached car wash.

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