Pandemic pushes one restaurant from downtown to North Lawrence; new tavern also opens north of the river

photo by: Chad Lawhorn/Journal-World photo

David Kwon, owner of Tokyo Sushi, has moved the business from downtown Lawrence to 239 Elm St. in North Lawrence.

North Lawrence is a long way from Tokyo, and it is just far enough from Massachusetts Street too. At least that is the case for Tokyo Sushi, which has moved from the 600 block of Massachusetts Street to a small North Lawrence location along the Kansas River.

Leaving busy downtown Lawrence for North Lawrence isn’t the most common move for a restaurant. But, of course, nothing has been common for the restaurant industry during this pandemic. Well, maybe one thing has remained fairly constant: a concern that downtown rents are too high. That was a big reason behind Tokyo Sushi’s move to 239 Elm St., which is the small spot that used to house the Levee Cafe.

“It was tough even before the pandemic, but the pandemic pushed us to make the move,” owner David Kwon told me. “Rent is extremely high in downtown Lawrence. I’m from New York City, and the lease rates are similar to some of the suburbs of New York.”

Enter North Lawrence. Tokyo Sushi moved in October to the new location, and has been getting settled in and readjusted ever since. The space is basically a block east of North Second Street, and is just on the north side of the downtown Kansas River bridge. Across the street from the restaurant is the Kansas River levee and its popular hiking and biking trail.

The restaurant has only a handful of tables inside, but does have a partially enclosed outdoor seating area. Takeout and delivery have been staples for the restaurant during the pandemic, and will continue to be a big part of the business once pandemic restrictions are lifted, Kwon said. In fact, he said it would be interesting to see if certain types of restaurants ever return to the dine-in model. Asian restaurants are particularly in that category, he said, because many Asian foods are “takeout sustainable.”

“They realize that doing takeout and delivery is a lot more feasible because you have less overhead,” Kwon said. “We see that too, but we really enjoy doing dine-in.”

Dine-in service currently is open at the restaurant.

In terms of the food, the menu at Tokyo Sushi, of course, features sushi, but also includes several “kitchen dishes” that include chicken, beef, shrimp and salmon teriyaki. The sushi portion of the menu has about 20 sushi rolls, including classics like the California roll, and spicy tuna and yellowtail rolls.

The menu also includes a section for something called Tokyo burritos. It is sushi based, but instead of the slices of a traditional sushi roll, this dish looks more like a burrito, with soy paper or cucumber wraps as the tortilla. The menu has about a half-dozen burrito options, each with a dipping sauce. That includes the Poki-rrito, which has tuna, mango, jalapeño, lettuce, avocado, fresh pickled red cabbage, spicy mayonnaise and eel sauce. Another, the Arach-rrito features two types of crab, cabbage, tuna, avocado and a wasabi ranch dipping sauce.

The restaurant also is trying to develop a lunch crowd with bento boxes, which is one of the original styles of takeout food. The boxes are a nicely packaged assortment of rice and a single serving entree. Options at Tokyo Sushi include chicken and broccoli, beef or pork bulgogi, which is a Korean-marinade dish with sautéed onions.

That’s an example of the restaurant’s philosophy of serving a broad variety of Asian offerings.

“We really try to target something for everybody, and that has made it really fun,” Kwon said.

•••

While we are in North Lawrence, I’m going to pass along one other business opening that happened during the height of the pandemic. Elmo’s Tavern has opened at 508 Locust St. in the spot that used to house Frank’s North Star Tavern.

I’m not sure bringing your Tickle Me Elmo doll to a bar is ever a good idea, but I guess this would be the place to give it a try. The bar technically isn’t named after Tickle Me Elmo — it is a reference to a nickname of a friend of the owner — but it does feature a shot called Tickle Me, and it has some of the same orange tint as good old Elmo (The Tickle Me Elmo, not the friend, presumably). The cocktail features Old Overholt straight rye whiskey, triple sec, Dekuyper Watermelon Schnapps and fresh lime.

The shot is one of the fancier things you will find at Elmo’s. Amanda Soelter, a manager of the bar, said the establishment liked the idea of being a simple, welcoming establishment. It features a couple of pool tables, a dart board, a digital juke box, televisions frequently turned to sports, and plans also call for an outdoor patio to be constructed behind the bar in the near future, she said.

The tavern does not have a food menu, and when it comes to the drinks, the establishment likes a certain type of simplicity to those as well. Soelter said Elmo’s wasn’t the type of place that would try to have dozens of different beers and other such options, for instance.

“We don’t have a lot of beers on tap, but we have everything the locals want,” she said.

photo by: Chad Lawhorn/Journal-World photo

A new solid wood bar is among the renovations owners of Elmo’s Tavern have made to the space at 508 Locust Street since taking over the property in November.

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