Whataburger files detailed plans for its new location along 23rd Street; car wash chain to take place of old On the Border restaurant

photo by: Associated Press/Newswire

A modern day Whataburger is shown in this file photo.

Restaurant trends in Lawrence have been known to swing like the pendulum on a clock. When it comes to Mexican restaurants, though, it may be more like a wrecking ball on the end of a cable.

Indeed, two Mexican restaurant buildings soon will be demolished, according to plans filed at Lawrence City Hall.

One project has long been in the works — the much-talked-about Whataburger restaurant has officially filed its plans to locate on 23rd Street where the Mi Ranchito Mexican restaurant has been located for years.

The second, though, is new. A chain car wash and quick service oil change business plans to locate at the corner of 31st and Iowa streets where an On the Border Mexican restaurant building has long sat vacant.

photo by: Chad Lawhorn/Journal-World

The future site of a Whataburger restaurant along Lawrence’s 23rd Street is shown on May 30, 2023. The restaurant chain plans to build a smaller building that is located farther from 23rd Street than the existing Mi Ranchito building, which will be demolished.

First, let’s look at the Whataburger and what it means for Mi Ranchito. A manager at the Mexican restaurant briefly told me that Tuesday was the last day of operation for the restaurant. He said the restaurant does not yet have a new location to announce, but the business has been looking for one in Lawrence.

The fate of Mi Ranchito has been one of the questions surrounding that project. The other has been whether Whataburger actually is for real. We’ve been reporting for months now that the Texas-based hamburger chain had decided to come to Lawrence and locate at the 23rd Street site. However, it has only been in recent days that the chain has filed its site plan with City Hall, showing the type, size and exact location of the building that is planned.

How Whataburger is going to locate on that site without creating a traffic mess on 23rd Street has been another big question surrounding the project. Motorists frequently see the drive-thru line at the nearby Dunkin’ restaurant spill onto 23rd Street, so there is worry about what will happen when the only hamburger endorsed by Chiefs superstar Patrick Mahomes hits the market. (The quarterback is a partial owner of the area’s Whataburger franchise.)

The new site plan starts to provide some answers. The first thing that is going to change about the site is the new restaurant building is going to be less than half the size of the existing Mi Ranchito building. The second difference is that it will be located farther off of 23rd Street than the existing building.

photo by: City of Lawrence/KMO Burger LLC

A site plan rendering for a new Whataburger restaurant on 23rd Street in Lawrence is shown.

The end result will be a much bigger parking lot, and the plans filed with the city show that it will be designed in a way to allow a long line of drive-thru cars to snake its way through the parking lot rather than spill onto 23rd Street. As a reminder, unlike the Dunkin’ restaurant, the Whataburger won’t have a direct driveway onto 23rd Street. Instead, motorists will use the main entrance in The Malls shopping center, and then turn into the Whataburger parking lot from that private drive.

All that is well and good, but it still will be interesting to watch how motorists enter and exit the site. Currently, the motorists can use a center turn lane to turn left across traffic and enter The Malls, if traffic at the nearby 23rd and Louisiana intersection isn’t backed up past the entrance. Motorists leaving The Malls also are allowed to turn left out of The Malls onto 23rd Street, when there are breaks in the traffic.

As near as I can tell, the site plan isn’t proposing any changes to how motorists enter and exit the shopping center. That, however, is the type of detail that city planners look at as part of the site plan process.

As for the location of the building, it is planned to be on the southern half of the nearly 1-acre lot that the restaurant will occupy. That will put the restaurant much closer to the Douglas County Elections office, which is its neighbor to the south. (Forget hanging chads, I predict the next ballot issue will be whether that is a ballot mark or spicy ketchup.)

While the building won’t be as near to 23rd Street as the current building, I wouldn’t worry about the restaurant lacking visibility. The submitted plans propose a 30-foot-tall flag pole to be installed along 23rd Street in front of the building.

The project likely will take several weeks to work its way through the approval process at Lawrence City Hall, although a site plan only has to be approved by planners rather than by the City Commission. The site plan should be one of the last approvals needed before construction can begin on the property.


photo by: Chad Lawhorn/Journal-World

The former On the Border Mexican restaurant site at 31st and Iowa streets is pictured on May 30, 2023

The second project where the demolition crew will be at work is at the northeast corner of 31st and Iowa streets. For those of you who never forget a margarita, you might remember the site as the former home of On the Border. But that has been a long time ago. The On the Border building has been empty since 2019.

Time has not treated the empty building well. It has been a deteriorating sight at one of the main entrances into town. Soon enough, though, it will get cleaned up and the site will be all about keeping your car clean.

Take 5 Car Wash is listed as the use on a new final development plan submitted to City Hall for the property at 3080 Iowa Street.

However, Take 5 Car Wash advertises itself as a business that offers not only car washes, but also quick service oil changes where motorists never have to leave their vehicle. It wasn’t clear from the plans filed at City Hall whether this location will offer that service or will be a car wash-only location.

Like many of the new car washes, it appears the company offers a club program where you can pay a monthly fee to get unlimited car washes. In addition, the company touts having a special detail center that is run in partnership with the ArmorAll brand of vehicle cleaning products. Everybody who gets a car wash gets access to the “detail center” where a host of ArmorAll products can be used to give the vehicle an extra shine.

The location will be the first Take Five in Lawrence. According to the company’s website, its lone Kansas location is in Shawnee.


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