Moroccan restaurant ravaged by fire moves to new downtown location; news of downtown expansion, closing

photo by: Chad Lawhorn/Journal-World photo

Owner Yasine Marouazi said his new restaurant space at 7 E. Seventh St. has a homelike feel, which fits well with Argana Cafe's traditional Moroccan dishes.

The former location of Wake the Dead Donuts in downtown Lawrence is now serving as the home for a business that you certainly might have thought was a goner.

If you recall, Argana Cafe was the subject of a previous Town Talk this summer. The Moroccan restaurant opened in an old Pizza Hut location on 23rd Street and was trying to make a name for itself with traditional Mediterranean fare, like fresh couscous, beef tajine and gyro sandwiches. Business had picked up 400% to 500% after the restaurant got some publicity, owner Yasine Marouazi said.

Then, July 30 came and the restaurant got publicity for all the wrong reasons. A fire started in the basement and the restaurant was a complete loss. Argana Cafe had been open for only four weeks.

“It was really bad,” Marouazi said. “I lost everything there. I couldn’t recover anything. Emotionally, I was just shocked. I was thinking of not doing anything again. I was just so tired.”

But Marouazi said his wife ultimately provided the encouragement to remind him that “I do love doing this.” At some point, a saying also started to take hold in his mind.

“It is not how hard you get hit but how quickly you can get back on your feet,” he said.

photo by: Chad Lawhorn/Journal-World photo

Argana Cafe opened in October 2020 in space at 7 E. Seventh St. in downtown Lawrence.

While on their feet — strolling through downtown — the couple came upon the old Wake the Dead spot at 7 E. Seventh St. It is a unique split-level space in an older building, which houses the cocktail spot John Brown Underground on its lower level.

The upper level is almost house-like with the space broken into several rooms. That appealed to Marouazi, in part because his food often has a family vibe. Some of it is served family-style, and most of it has the touches of his mother-in-law, who serves as a chef and spice master at the restaurant.

Spices often provide the signature flavor in Moroccan food, and Marouazi said he’s bringing all the favorites from the old location. That includes spices like saffron and cumin, plus more unusual flavors like pickled lemon, pickled butter and argan oil, from which the restaurant takes its name. Argan oil is like olive oil, only creamier and nuttier.

Marouazi said he has made a few American tweaks to the menu, including cheesesteaks, chicken tenders and wings, plus a few other offerings for kids or others who may not want a more traditional Mediterranean meal.

The restaurant is open for both lunch and dinner, and Marouazi said he’s looking forward to being in downtown.

“The space is cozy,” Marouazi said. “It is like you are walking into your own apartment.”

As for the old space on 23rd Street, Marouazi said the landlord told him plans are to demolish the building. Marouazi said the fire department’s investigation determined the fire started because of an electrical issue in the basement.

Other news and notes from around town:

• There are “Munsters” on the move in downtown Lawrence this Halloween season. Well, sort of.

The vintage toy shop 1313 Mockingbird Lane — named after the address of the Munster home in the TV show “The Munsters” — has completed its move into a larger space. The shop will open on Thursday at 1027 Massachusetts St., which is about three doors down from its previous, small location at 1021 1/4 Massachusetts St. Yes, it is one of the odder addresses in downtown Lawrence, and owner Terry Taylor can attest that Google scratches its head when you search for an address with 1/4 in its listing.

But that’s not why the shop is moving. Surprisingly, the shop also isn’t moving to expand its inventory, even though its space is basically doubling. Instead, Taylor and his wife, Liz, both felt they had to have a larger shop to make shopping safer during the pandemic. Both Taylors are in the health care field — Liz as a full-time registered nurse and Terry as a part-time respiratory therapist. The approximately 280 square feet at the old location just wasn’t enough space to create the type of social distancing the couple believe is necessary.

“It wasn’t ‘should we do this,’ but ‘we need to do this,'” Terry said of the move. “If there wasn’t a pandemic, hands down, we wouldn’t have moved.”

photo by: Chad Lawhorn/Journal-World photo

The vintage toy store 1313 Mockingbird Lane moved in October 2020 to larger space at 1027 Massachusetts Street.

There was a time, though, that the pandemic easily could have spelled the end for the store. Being any type of retailer during the pandemic has been hard, but 1313 Mockingbird Lane got an assist from an unlikely source: the retail giant Amazon.

Amazon featured the store on an episode of “A Toy Store Near You,” a program that runs on the Amazon Prime network. The response, Terry said, was nothing short of amazing.

“When that TV show dropped, it saved our business,” Terry said.

He said he had customers drive from Houston, Austin and Oklahoma City, all in a matter of days after the episode first aired. Plus, online orders from across the globe started coming in.

As for what people buy, Terry said it could be about anything.

“It is amazing how many people come in here for a Harry Potter wand but leave with a Michael Myers figurine,” Terry said.

While business still is not at pre-pandemic levels, he said the store did seem to be benefiting from a certain mindset that is taking hold as the pandemic stretches on.

“Much like me, they are living in a 100% state of nostalgia, especially now when hope seems a little lost,” Terry said. “It reminds them of better times and hope and the innocence of growing up. I think the toys help people cope a little bit.”

• There is news of one notable downtown closing I need to pass along. Aimee’s Cafe & Coffeehouse at 1025 Massachusetts St. closed earlier this month after more than 20 years in business. According to a sign on the door and on social media, the owners — members of the Strong family — said the time simply was right to end their “adventure.”

”It was over 20 years ago that I opened a coffeeshop named for my girlfriend,” the sign reads. “I had no idea back then how this adventure would shape my life. Here we are two decades later, Aimee is now my wife and we have raised our two sons up in this small business.”

No word yet on what may go into the space.

photo by: Chad Lawhorn/Journal-World photo

Aimee’s Cafe & Coffeehouse, 1025 Massachusetts, closed in October 2020 after more than 20 years in business.


Welcome to the new Our old commenting system has been replaced with Facebook Comments. There is no longer a separate username and password login step. If you are already signed into Facebook within your browser, you will be able to comment. If you do not have a Facebook account and do not wish to create one, you will not be able to comment on stories.