New downtown coffee and frozen custard shop will have an edge to it; small diner won’t reopen after pandemic

photo by: Chad Lawhorn

Co-owner Willard Ashmore is pictured at Sid and Nancy’s Coffee and Custard, 947 New Hampshire St., Monday, June 8, 2020.

A new downtown shop that sells coffee and frozen custard is not a big corporate operation. If it were, I sure would like to meet the manager who signed off on naming the business after a heroin-addicted punk rocker who also got tied up in a murder allegation. (Submit your expense accounts to that manager.)

But, no, Sid and Nancy’s, 947 New Hampshire St., is not about being corporate. It is about a lot of other things, though. Those include coffee, frozen custard, homemade cookies, punk rock music on its speakers and regular screenings of classic horror movies.

If that list sounds like a lot, remember that a lot of things go through your mind when you are 15 years old. Co-owner Willard Ashmore no longer is 15, but he was when he came up with the business plan for the shop.

For years, he’s wanted a shop that combines his love for coffee, punk rock music and classic horror films. Ashmore is betting that even if that trio isn’t everybody else’s list of loves, the new shop still will be appealing to many. That’s because the shop’s funky vibe speaks to a broader belief that Ashmore thinks is growing in popularity.

“It is a good feeling to be comfortable in your own skin, and like what you want to like, not what other people tell you to like,” Ashmore said. “We do want to take people away from that corporate culture and the people who are standing over you.”

photo by: Chad Lawhorn

Sid and Nancy’s Coffee and Custard, 947 New Hampshire St., is pictured Monday, June 8, 2020.

As for what you will find once you get into the shop — which is along 10th Street just to the east of the Replay Lounge — there are several elements. Let’s unpack it in order.

First is the name, for those of you who’ve had your curiosity piqued. The Sid is in reference to Sid Vicious, a former bass player for the iconic 1970s punk rock band the Sex Pistols. Nancy is in reference to Nancy Spungen, a groupie of the band and Sid’s girlfriend. The two got hooked on heroin together, and the relationship got a bit bumpy after that. It ended with murder allegations against Sid after Nancy was found stabbed to death in their New York hotel room. Sid died a few months later of a heroin overdose.

In other words, a run-of-the-mill story you might hear over a cup of coffee. As for the coffee, the shop offers several choices. Instead of roasting its own beans (Roasted Beans — a great band name by the way,) the shop buys its coffee beans from a variety of local companies. Right now, Sid and Nancy’s has a deal with Lawrence-based Alchemy Coffee and J&S Coffee. Ashmore expects to sign on one to two more local suppliers, plus feature some special blends during certain seasons.

“There’s this one brewer that has a flowers blend. It is very summery,” Ashmore said as an example of the type of unique seasonal coffees the shop plans to offer.

Then, there is the frozen custard. That wasn’t part of the business plan he drew up as a 15-year old. But after working for a while in Pennsylvania, Ashmore decided he wanted to get closer to family in Kansas. His mother and stepfather, Katrina and Tom Gavala, already were considering opening a frozen custard shop. Ashmore reminded his mother of his business plan, and the trio formed a partnership to open the new shop.

The shop makes fresh vanilla and chocolate custard, and it also features a flavor of the day. It has a bar of toppings that includes more than 10 different candies and other toppings. The coffee even gets in on the act.

“You can have a shot of espresso put in anything here,” Ashmore said.

In addition, Ashmore makes a variety of syrups each day, primarily for the coffee drinks on the menu. But those syrups, which include everything from traditional hazelnut to blueberry and blackberry syrups, can be added to custard to make a shake. The shop also makes homemade cookies, which literally are his mother’s recipes.

As for the horror movies, Ashmore is in the process of having a 120-inch projector screen installed in the shop, which seats about 50 people. On Friday and Saturday nights, plus Sunday afternoons, he plans to screen classic horror movies for customers. For Ashmore, that means some flicks dating all the way back to the 1930s and a few as new as the mid-1990s.

On other days, he plans to make the screen available to local moviemakers who are looking for a free place to screen their work. Ashmore said he studied film in college for a while, but got discouraged, in part, because of how hard it was to break into the business. Free screenings, he figures, might help.

Plus, the screenings fit in nicely with the shop’s overall theme of expression.

“We love what we love, and I want everybody to come in and express what they love,” Ashmore said.

In other news and notes from around town:

photo by: Nick Krug/Journal-World File Photo

The Levee Cafe, 239 Elm St., is pictured in this file photo from Monday, Aug. 29, 2016.

• If one of the things you love is biking atop the Kansas River levee and then fueling up with a plate of bacon, eggs and hash browns, you now have one less option. (I’m almost certain hash browns were the secret to Lance Armstrong’s success.)

The Levee Cafe at 239 Elm St. in North Lawrence recently announced on Facebook that it has decided not to reopen after having temporarily closed because of the pandemic.

“As a very small, locally-owned mom-and-pop restaurant, it does not make sense for us to continue running our current business model,” a post on the restaurant’s Facebook page said. “We love the restaurant industry, and have many ideas that better fit our current climate. We hope to see you soon someday.”

Mary Holt and her husband, Evan, have had the small diner for a little more than three years. The post made it sound like another food venture for them may be in the works. I’ll let you know if I hear word of that.


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