Whataburger files plans for first Lawrence restaurant; would locate on 23rd Street, if zoning is approved

photo by: AP Photo/Eric Gay

This Thursday, July 9, 2015 photo shows a Whataburger restaurant in San Antonio, Texas.

There has been a Whataburger question in Lawrence for a while now: When? The answer, it appears, is soon. Plans have been filed at Lawrence City Hall for the popular fast-food hamburger chain to build its first restaurant in the city.

Plans call for the restaurant to locate on the current site of Mi Ranchito Mexican restaurant at 707 W. 23rd St.

If you aren’t familiar with Whataburger, you must not be either a hamburger fan or a Kansas City Chiefs fan. The restaurant long has been a fast-food staple in Texas, Oklahoma and other parts south of here. But it has become a big deal in Kansas City because the biggest deal in Kansas City — Chiefs quarterback Patrick Mahomes — is a huge fan.

In fact, Mahomes became a partner in a Whataburger franchise and, just like that, the restaurant chain began opening locations in the KC metro last year. Ever since, there has been a question of when the company would make the leap over to Lawrence.

The new filing at City Hall shows that Whataburger is interested in Lawrence, but it is too early to say this is a done deal. Before Whataburger can locate on the Mi Ranchito site, the property must be rezoned. While the site at 707 W. 23rd St. is zoned for a restaurant, it is not zoned for a drive-thru restaurant. Certainly, 23rd Street has many drive-thru restaurants — this site is literally next door to McDonald’s — so you wouldn’t think rezoning to allow another drive-thru would be a problem. But, a re-zoning in Lawrence is never a sure thing. It will require approval from both the Lawrence-Douglas County Planning Commission and the City Commission, and likely will take a few months.

For those of you who like the details, the rezoning application isn’t specifically tied to Whataburger. The property owner — a group led by local businessman and landlord Bill Schulteis — simply is seeking rezoning approval for a drive-thru restaurant. But, if you dig deeper into the filings, there also was a “concept site plan” submitted with the rezoning request. That concept site plan was prepared by Whataburger, and calls for the existing Mi Ranchito building to be demolished and replaced with a smaller restaurant building and a dual-lane drive-thru.

photo by: Associated Press/Newswire

A modern day Whataburger is shown in this file photo.

If the rezoning ultimately is approved, get ready for a new round of hamburger debates. Whataburger is known for having a passionate fan base. When the first KC metro Whataburger opened in Lee’s Summit in November, KC media reported that people tried to start camping out a full seven hours before its opening, and traffic started backing up on a nearby interstate as soon as the restaurant opened.

Folks in Kansas City, Kansas, are expecting big crowds Tuesday as the first Mahomes-owned Whataburger is scheduled to open at The Legends in Wyandotte County. The other Whataburger stores in KC have been corporate owned. It wasn’t clear from the filing at Lawrence City Hall whether Mahomes’ group will own the Lawrence location or whether it will be operated by another group.

photo by: Associated Press/Newswire

A Whataburger hamburger is shown in this file photo.

As for the food, well, the hamburger is of course the main attraction. The standard comes with mustard, lettuce, tomatoes, pickles and diced onions on a 5-inch bun. Other toppings are available, like jalapeños, grilled pepper and onions, avocado, and sometimes the chain even has special toppings like a hard boiled egg or green chiles. The other item that gets a lot of talk is ketchup. While the hamburgers don’t come with ketchup as a standard fixing, the restaurant actually offers two types of ketchup — a regular version or a spicy version. Picante sauce and salsa verde are also part of the offerings.

The restaurant also is big into breakfast, and in particular, late-night or early morning breakfast. Most Whataburgers are open 24 hours, and breakfast service begins at 11 p.m., meaning a whole lot of breakfast sandwiches and breakfast taquitos are served up after last call at the bars. Or, you could opt for a jalapeño cheddar biscuit, which is another of the restaurant’s breakfast specialties.

As for the future of Mi Ranchito, I don’t have any details on whether it would relocate elsewhere in Lawrence or simply exit the market if the Whataburger deal proceeds.


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