On first day they were allowed, most downtown restaurants didn’t reopen dining rooms; more did so in southern Lawrence

photo by: Chad Lawhorn/Journal-World photo

Owner Jason Lester used a leaf blower to clean a new parking lot dining area at Texas Roadhouse, 2329 Iowa St.

In-person dining in Lawrence didn’t make a lot of noise on Monday — the first day local regulations allowed eateries to reopen their dining rooms — unless you count the leaf blower.

Along Massachusetts Street in downtown Lawrence, I counted only three restaurants that had their dining rooms open for lunch: Pita Pit, Jefferson’s and The Jayhawker inside the Eldridge Hotel.

There was a bit more activity in southern Lawrence, including a scene that says something about how the restaurant world has changed in the last two months. The owner of the local Texas Roadhouse steak restaurant near 23rd and Iowa streets was in his parking lot operating a leaf blower.

He was cleaning the area for the approximately dozen dining tables that now occupy parking spots.

The restaurant is scheduled to open at 3 p.m. today. Its indoor dining will be open, but so too will a parking lot dining section that received special approval from Lawrence City Hall recently.

“I hope it works,” owner Jason Lester said of the new concept.

He said to-go orders had never been a big part of his steakhouse’s business before the pandemic. He said the restaurant had gotten a lot better at that business during the shutdown.

“But I can tell you it is still a lot better to have 500 people inside,” he said.

Indeed, Texas Roadhouse was one of several examples of larger capacity restaurants that had decided to reopen. Just down the street, Bigg’s BBQ also was open for dine-in service.

“I think we might have an advantage because we can seat 200 people in here, so we can really spread out,” owner Doug Holiday said.

Holiday, though, also opened the dining room at his smaller restaurant, Burgers by Bigg’s at Sixth and Wakarusa, on Monday. He said it was important to open up to start getting used to new ways of operation in the social-distancing era. He said he expected the crowds to return more in a “crescendo” fashion rather than a sudden surge. But he does think they’ll return.

“I think people have figured out how to go back to Walmart and Home Depot, and I think they’ll figure out how to come back to us because we’ll be practicing social distancing and good hygiene and everything else that we need to do,” Holiday said.

Based on my observations, far more restaurants in the southern part of Lawrence were reopening their dining rooms than the smaller restaurants on Massachusetts Street. Among some of the other establishments that were open for in-person dining on Monday: Panera; Mi Ranchito; Perkins; Chili’s; El Potro Mexican Cafe and Jason’s Deli. I’m sure there were more, but I didn’t lay eyes on every restaurant in the corridor.

I did walk by every restaurant on Massachusetts Street, however. By my count, there were only the three that I mentioned above. None were overly busy during the lunch hour. I did run into a couple of restaurant owners who said they were planning on reopening their dining rooms soon.

Ramen Bowls plans to reopen its dining room on Wednesday, but will allow only 10 customers at a time, owner Shantel Grace told me.

photo by: Chad Lawhorn/Journal-World photo

Black Stag Brewery, 623 Massachusetts Street, is starting its reopening plans by focusing on dinner only.

Black Stag Brewery planned to reopen for dinner Monday tonight. Owner John Hampton said the restaurant was doing carry-out only from 11 a.m. to 4 p.m., but would offer dining room service, in addition to carry out, after 4 p.m.. He said it has been a challenge figuring out how to reopen. Deciding on how many people to have on staff for a shift has been challenging. He elected to start with dinner first and then reopen lunch when he starts having more people request the service.

He thinks a lot of other downtown restaurants are doing the same type of calculation. Mounting expenses will have many looking to reopen sooner rather than later. Even if some restaurants did get a break on rent, which is not a certainty, expenses like utilities, insurance and taxes continue to pile up on the closed establishments.

“You know, on this street, you can’t go without revenue for very long,” Hampton said.

While I didn’t get to every restaurant in town, I will pass along information that I did get from a few other places I checked on:

• Many fast food restaurants didn’t have their dining rooms open during the Monday lunch hour. That included the 23rd Street locations of McDonald’s, Taco Bell and Wendy’s.

• Buffalo Wild Wings was one of the large restaurants that did not reopen the dining room. An employee there told me it is scheduled to reopen on Wednesday.

• Out west, the dining room of 23rd Street Brewery was not open yet. An employee there told me it is scheduled to reopen on Thursday.

• Downtown Lawrence did have a good amount of traffic on Monday, and it appeared a lot of it was driven by barber shops. There were lines outside some shops. Every barber shop I saw had business, including Downtown Barber Shop, Amyx Barber Shop, and Rex’s Stadium Barber Shop.

The photo below was from about 8:30 this morning in front of the Downtown Barber Shop. The shop was taking appointments. I’m not sure how far out they are at the moment, but one man who did not give me his name, said he arrived a little after 7 a.m. Monday and was told about 30 people were on the list ahead of him.

Some shops were advertising that they are now open seven days per week to deal with the backlog.

photo by: Chad Lawhorn/Journal-World photo

Crowds gathered about 8:30 a.m. on Monday outside the Downtown Barber Shop at 824 Massachusetts St.

photo by: Chad Lawhorn/Journal-World photo

Both barbers and customers were wearing masks as others waited outside the Downtown Barber Shop, 824 Massachusetts St., on Monday morning.


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