Braum’s ice cream and hamburger chain files plans to locate near Rock Chalk Park in northwest Lawrence

photo by: Shutterstock

Plans are underway for a Braum’s restaurant to locate in Lawrence.

It appears my bloodstream soon will get a boost from dips of Braum’s ice cream, and a northwest Lawrence retail development will get a boost from the Oklahoma-based hamburger and dessert chain as well.

Yes, plans are underway for a Braum’s restaurant to locate in Lawrence. According to plans filed at City Hall, the chain will locate in the large, mostly vacant retail-zoned area that is just south of Rock Chalk Park near Sixth Street and George Williams Way.

For the longest time, the idea of a Braum’s in Lawrence was thought to be the impossible dream. The Oklahoma City-based chain has long publicized that it will not locate one of its restaurants more than 300 miles away from its dairy and ice cream plant in Tuttle, Oklahoma. Lawrence is 344 miles away from Tuttle, and it appears this location will be the farthest north the company has ventured.

I’m not sure what has changed. (Maybe they finally took my suggestion and put a couple of cows on the truck and are milking on the drive up. As long as you have an automatic transmission, it is really not that hard.) Perhaps a soft spot for Lawrence finally won Braum’s over.

I don’t know the Braum family, but its history suggests it might have a special affection for Lawrence. The founder of Braum’s, Bill Braum, graduated from the University of Kansas in the 1940s. Bill’s father, at that time already, was a large dairy farmer and was processing butter and ice cream in the family’s hometown of Emporia.

The family went on to have a popular Kansas chain of ice cream stores called Peter Pan Ice Cream. It eventually was sold, and as part of that deal the Braum family couldn’t sell ice cream in Kansas for a decade.

The story goes that the family moved its 900 dairy cows to Oklahoma, opened a shop called Braum’s there, and then grew to more than 300 locations in Oklahoma, Texas, Missouri, Arkansas and, after the contract prohibitions expired, in Kansas. But only parts of Kansas. With the 300-mile radius rule in effect, the farthest north the store came was its old hometown of Emporia.

If you are keeping track at home, Braum’s is one of two major culinary delights that has its roots in Emporia. The city also is home to the production plant for Twinkies. My belief has always been that if you can’t build a festival around those two foods — sponsored by one of the major cholesterol drug makers — you just aren’t trying. (In fairness, Emporia has had a Twinkie festival before, complete with a Twinkie toss and a Twinkie costume contest.)

So, the news of Braum’s coming to Lawrence is big in and of itself. But it also is notable for the Lawrence location it has chosen. The Mercato development is one of the largest available pieces of retail property in all of Lawrence. It came into existence as the Rock Chalk Park athletic complex was developed by the City of Lawrence and KU about a decade ago.

The Mercato retail area, backed by the local development families of the Schwadas and the Fritzels, was a big part of the plan, in that it was envisioned to attract a host of retailers, restaurants, hotels and other such businesses that would add to Lawrence’s sales tax base and capitalize on the out-of-town visitors.

But that idea has been slow to materialize. A hotel chain did develop at the site, and LMH Health made a huge investment in the area by locating its West Campus medical building there. But there have been no retail chains or restaurants that were once thought to be the natural tie-in to the sports complex.

Braum’s would change that. The chain is the type of natural business that you’d think would want to capitalize on Rock Chalk Park visitors. After all, a double dip has been known to be a parental cure for a day of watching double dribbles on the basketball court.

The project, though, does need to get to the finish line. The restaurant, however, won’t need any special zoning or other unusual approvals from City Hall, as near as I can tell. The application that showed up at City Hall is for a site plan, which is a technical approval that is done by the city’s planning staff rather than the City Commission.

If the project does come to fruition, it will be interesting to watch whether it serves as the deal that opened the spigot (or cranked the churn, perhaps). Developers often say that a project really benefits when a well-respected chain chooses a location. It makes all the rest of the chains feel more comfortable that other smart businesspeople are seeing the potential of a location.

If that ends up being the case here, the impact on Lawrence’s retail scene could be big. Below is a marketing map — slightly outdated because the Best Western hotel that is shown has since changed brands — that gives you an idea of how many retail and commercial lots are available at Mercato.

photo by: Lane 4 commercial real estate

A marketing map shows available lots at the Mercato retail site in northwest Lawrence.

As you can see, there are more than a dozen commercial lots available, which already have the proper zoning for significant retail development. That’s key because such zoning historically is hard fought in Lawrence. People for a long time have thought that the Mercato site is the most likely location for a Costco to locate. That’s what the proposed “wholesale club” that is noted on the property is trying to suggest. Despite many rumors over the years, Costco has never filed plans to locate there or anywhere else in Lawrence, but perhaps it just needed the lure of ice cream. Regardless, there are a lot of new reasons to keep an eye on this area going forward.

As for the ice cream, Braum’s has a lot of it. The company boasts more than 100 flavors, although they usually are not all available in the case at once. The other ice cream tip to know about Braum’s is that it gives you the option of replacing your soda with a shake on any of their combo meals.

Yes, the restaurant serves a variety of food, with hamburgers and crinkle-cut fries being a staple. The company owns its own bakery, so the buns also are a big deal at Braum’s.

Many of the newer Braum’s restaurants also include a “Fresh Market and Grocery Store,” that sell daily essentials such as bread, ice cream and other dairy products.


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