Pedal for a pastry? New downtown cafe in bike, outdoor shop is betting many will

photo by: Chad Lawhorn/Journal-World photo

Sunflower Cafe has taken space previously occupied by the service department in the downtown bike and outdoor shop at 804 Massachusetts Street. The seating area for the cafe goes around the corner of the space, and also extends upstairs.

When Dan Hughes, co-owner of Sunflower Outdoor & Bike, started planning to add a cafe to the store, he figured menu items that could easily fit into the jersey pocket of a bike outfit would be key.

Indeed, such offerings are important, but that’s not always how the menu ends up getting used.

“I find myself thinking a lot over the last 30 miles of a ride about what I’m going to order and what beer I’m going to wash it down with,” said Hughes, who is still an avid rider.

I know what I would be ordering if I was on a 30-plus-mile bicycle ride — the AED special, extra jelly on the paddles, please.

No, that is not on the menu of the Sunflower Cafe, which recently has opened in parts of the back and upstairs portions of the nearly 50-year-old outdoor and bicycle shop near Eighth and Massachusetts streets in downtown Lawrence.

“Coffee is really popular,” Hughes said of his early takeaways from the new venture, which opened partly a few weeks ago, but had a full opening recently when it received its liquor license from the city.

The coffee menu features a special blend from Lawrence-based Repetition Coffee, called the 859 Above Blend. It is a reference to Lawrence’s altitude above sea level, which apparently is a consideration for serious cyclists (and most definitely for those of us with bad brakes.)

The coffee has hints of cranberry, ginger snaps and cocoa, and is kind of a spring-like, energizing blend, said Chloe Gilligan, cafe manager.

As for the beer, Hughes said it is a simple selection of usually about four local brewery offerings on tap, including from Free State and Lawrence Beer Company. “Just some lightweight stuff to wash down the trail dust,” Hughes said.

The food menu also isn’t complicated, he said. The cafe has partnered with Louis Wigen-Toccalino of Cellar Door Cafe near 11th and Massachusetts Street, on the food. Cellar Door provides Sunflower with a variety of grab-and-go options and other dishes that easily can be warmed and served at the cafe.

That includes a ham and brie sandwich, a chicken pesto panini, salad options, a chicken and sweet potato breakfast burrito and several vegetarian offerings. And then there is the pastry case. The menu says there are rotating selections, but some frequent offerings include something called a goldendoodle, which is similar to a snickerdoodle but with coconut, saffron and five spice. But after a long day in the saddle, Hughes said a financier — a traditional French pastry of brown butter and almond flour — is one of his go-to offerings.

photo by: Chad Lawhorn/Journal-World photo

Blueberry financiers, one of several pastry offerings at Sunflower Cafe, are shown.

The cafe has its own separate entrance off of Eighth Street, which used to serve as an entrance for the store’s service department. Most of the service department has been relocated to the basement, which Hughes said was a tough ask for the staff, but was made easier with a major remodel of the basement, including the addition of a $7,000 bike washing station. A small portion of the service shop, including customer drop-off, remains on the ground floor next to the bar area. In fact, you can actually sit at a portion of the bar and watch a mechanic work on a bike immediately on the other side of the bar. Yes, you know he has to be getting a lot of good advice, in between mouthfuls of goldendoodle, of course.

But that is part of the plan too, Hughes said. The cafe concept is meant to be a gathering place for people who love bikes and the outdoors. Hughes has converted a large area of the upstairs portion of the store into an overflow seating area for the cafe, equipped it with a large-screen TV and plans to open the area up to outdoor-oriented clubs and other gatherings that need the space.

“For years we’ve been having people come in here and lean on a counter and tell us their stories,” Hughes said. “We’ve always shared in that. Now, they can sit down and we have a chance to sell them a pastry.”

photo by: Chad Lawhorn/Journal-World photo

The main entrance for Sunflower Cafe is on Eighth Street, just south of Massachusetts Street. But the cafe also has filed plans with the city for a sidewalk dining area on Massachusetts Street for the cafe.

The store has made some other changes to its inventory as part of the new venture. Some of the outdoor items from upstairs have been moved down to the main floor, and Hughes said the store is going for more of a curated look for its inventory rather than one that is piled high and deep.

That’s keeping with new philosophies in retail, including more e-commerce. Sunflower is now serving as a spot where people can order a bike online and have it shipped to Sunflower to be assembled and made ready for riding.

The store, though, will continue to have lots of bikes and other merchandise in the store. Currently, though, Sunflower is dealing with supply chain issues facing most bicycle and outdoor suppliers, who got slammed with sales by people looking for safe activities during the pandemic.

“A lot of times we’ll have 200 bikes on order and get six of them, and we’ll do a happy dance,” Hughes said.

Those are the times we are in, but Hughes said those supply issues will work themselves out, like many other issues have at Sunflower. The store, which got its start mainly as an Army supply store, will turn 50 years old in 2022. It survived a major fire in 1997 and partially reinvented itself at that time. The cafe business is another example of that type of evolution, Hughes said.

“I wasn’t going to have as much fun doing all of this if we just kept doing the same thing,” said Hughes, who began working at the store in 1987. “This has reinvorgorated my love for the place.”

photo by: Chad Lawhorn/Journal-World photo

Cafe Manager Chloe Gilligan and co-owner Dan Hughes stand in the new Sunflower Cafe space, which is connected to the rest of bike and outdoor shop, shown in the background.

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