Whataburger deal on 23rd Street still moving forward but not yet final; signs of a new seafood restaurant emerge

photo by: Associated Press/Newswire

A modern day Whataburger is shown in this file photo.

Obviously the pilgrims chose turkey for the first Thanksgiving because the drive-thru burger joint was closed for the holiday. Maybe the history books differ on that contention, but it is a fact that I’ve got hamburgers on my mind.

Particularly, Whataburgers.

In case you have forgotten, plans were filed in June at City Hall showing that the popular hamburger chain Whataburger wants to open its first Lawrence restaurant at 707 W. 23rd St., which is the current site of Mi Ranchito Mexican restaurant.

But many of you have not forgotten because you keep asking what’s the status on Whataburger? In short, the deal is still moving forward, but not yet completed.

Ryan Schulteis, a commercial real estate agent representing the landlords of the 23rd Street property, said Whataburger is completing its final stages of due diligence before buying the 23rd Street property from the Lawrence ownership group. He said a firm closing date hasn’t been set, but it is expected within the next couple of months.

An important development to note is that the project has its necessary planning approvals from the city of Lawrence. Even though the 23rd Street site long has been home to a restaurant, it needed a new zoning designation that would allow the site to have a drive-thru. Given that 23rd Street is full of drive-thrus, it didn’t seem like that zoning designation would be a big hurdle, and it wasn’t. The zoning moved through the city planning process fairly quickly. The project received Planning Commission approval in late July and City Commission approval in mid-September.

Any delay that is happening in the project isn’t related to the city objecting to the site.

So, fans of the Texas-based hamburger chain — loved by Kansas City Chiefs quarterback Patrick Mahomes for everything from its spicy ketchup to its salsa verde to its jalapeño cheddar biscuits — should keep an eye out in early 2023 for signs that Whataburger is truly on the way. While people are telling me the deal should close, I could meet you at Lawrence’s Red Lobster, Olive Garden, Cracker Barrel or a few other places to discuss how chain restaurant deals in Lawrence sometimes fall through.

Mi Ranchito is shown in this 2015 file photo

The other question surrounding this project is what happens to Mi Ranchito, which has been a long time Tex-Mex staple on 23rd Street? This latest update seems to make it more likely that Mi Ranchito will be in the 23rd Street spot through at least the end of the year. At one point, I thought it may be out of the site by the end of November.

But there is plenty else about the situation that is murky. The general manager for Mi Ranchito told me this week that the company has secured a site near Sixth and Wakarusa to relocate the restaurant. He told me the specific site — and there has been a rumor floating around town about it — but I’m not reporting the location currently. That’s because when I reached out to the owner of the longtime business that currently is in that location, he said there are no plans for his business to move from the location, which he leases. Obviously, the statements from those two parties don’t match up, and my efforts to get more clarity on the situation haven’t been successful.

But Mi Ranchito has been communicating with its customers via a sign on the door and other such manners that it is committed to remaining in Lawrence if it is forced to move from its current home to make way for Whataburger.

I’ll let you know if I get more information.


photo by: Chad Lawhorn/Journal-World

The future home of Louisiana Seafood is pictured at 2223 Louisiana Street on Nov. 22, 2022.

Another restaurant I’m keeping my eye on is just across the street from the Whataburger site. And it is far more uncommon than a hamburger joint. It is looking to become a new entrant in the world of Lawrence seafood.

Well, the seafood won’t be from Lawrence, but you know what I mean. Instead, look for it to be from the heart of Creole country. The restaurant is slated to be called Louisiana Seafood and will be in the shopping center at the northwest corner of 23rd and Louisiana.

I haven’t yet talked to the owners, but information online and from a paper menu that I acquired indicated the restaurant will specialize in several large seafood combo platters. Those will have shrimp, snow crab legs, mussels, lobster tail, squid, sausage, and several vegetables including broccoli, corn and potatoes.

It looks like there will be fried baskets, oven-baked baskets and some Asian influences that stand alongside the Creole ones. The menu includes crab rangoons, fried rice, homemade duck sauce, spring rolls and other offerings. The restaurant is next door to the Sushi Station. If you are having a hard time picturing the spot, it is across the parking lot from Wing Stop and is about a half-dozen doors east of Panera Bread.

No opening date yet on the restaurant, but signs at the site promise that the location will open soon. I’ll let you know if I catch up with the operators.


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