Texas-based coffee chain, and seller of ‘Dirty Pop,’ files plans to open on 23rd Street

photo by: 151 Coffee/City of Lawrence

This rendering of a 151 Coffee shop was included with the plans submitted to Lawrence City Hall seeking approval for a new location on 23rd Street.

From roast beef to roasted beans: That’s the planned journey for one fast-food location on 23rd Street.

Plans have been filed at City Hall to convert the former Arby’s fast food restaurant at 1533 W. 23rd St. into a drive-thru coffee shop to be operated by a regional chain called 151 Coffee.

That journey is a mild one for 151 Coffee. Take a quick look at its history, and you’ll see a winding path. The company is based in Texas, and most of its stores are in the Dallas area. But it roots go back to surfboards and hot beaches, snowboards and cold mountains, and a chain of video stores, of all things.

The common ingredient in all that is entrepreneur Mark Wattles. He is the founder and main financier of 151 Coffee. But before that, he was founder of Hollywood Video. Those of us old enough to remember VCRs likely recall Hollywood as the main competitor to Blockbuster Video.

According to his bio on the 151 Coffee website, Wattles mainly was interested in surfing and snowboarding, and was less interested in college. While struggling in college, he and his wife got a VCR as a present, and used it a lot for cheap entertainment. That’s when the idea struck to get into the video rental business, and he opened the first Hollywood Video store in 1988 in Portland, Ore. Fast forward 17 years later, and the publicly traded company sold for nearly a billion dollars, which today is the equivalent of about 10 Frappuccinos.

Well, my math might be off a bit, but regardless, Wattles is now spending a good amount of money on coffee. The first 151 Coffee opened in the Dallas-Fort Worth area in 2017 and the company now has a dozen locations in Texas. For reasons that aren’t clear, Kansas appears to be the second state the chain is expanding into. The website lists an Overland Park location as coming soon.

Frappuccinos, of course, are not on the menu at 151 Coffee. Those are a signature drink of Starbucks, which is kind of dominant in the coffee business like Blockbuster was in the video rental business. Whether 151 Coffee has a similar recipe to compete with that behemoth, I don’t know.

But it does have a big menu.

Like most of the coffee chains that are entering the Lawrence market, the menu is heavy on sweet coffee creations that can be served hot, iced or frozen. There’s a German Chocolate variety that includes coconut, caramel and chocolate milk. There’s also a Cinnamon Dulce, a White Chocolate Macadamia, a Snickers version and several others.

The menu also includes something called “Dirty Pop.” The involves a menu of traditional Coke, Pepsi and Dr Pepper products that are infused with sugary syrups in flavors like coconut, butterscotch, raspberry puree, mango, lime and many others.

But here’s an important note: For just $1 extra, you can get additional caffeine added to the drink. I’m unsure how that is accomplished. (If I’m just now finding out that you can buy kegs of caffeine, I’m going to flip this desk over. Of course, in fairness, that is the same thing I would do with a keg of caffeine.)

Before I move on, I feel obligated to note that one of the options is a Mountain Dew, with syrup, with an extra shot of caffeine. If it came in a cup made of Kryptonite, I would own the universe.

Also on the menu — in a separate category of Dirty Pop — are energy drinks. Strawberry, raspberry, apple, lime, coconut and many combinations thereof are available. Extra shots of caffeine also are available for those drinks.

A selection of smoothies and various teas round out the menu.

I don’t have word on when the location is expected to open. If you are having a hard time picturing the spot, it is a bit east of 23rd and Ousdahl, basically just east of the Perkins restaurant. I had reported several weeks ago that Arby’s had closed that location, leaving its store on West Sixth Street as the sole Lawrence location for that chain.

The plans for 151 Coffee indicate the company plans to keep the Arby’s building, but will completely alter the exterior, so I suspect the location will be under construction for a few months.

It likely will be one of many coffee shops under construction in Lawrence. As a reminder, Dutch Bros. Coffee has filed plans to build a new drive-thru coffee shop at 25th and Iowa streets, in the parking lot of the shopping center that includes Planet Fitness, Office Depot and other retailers.

That site had been set for a 7 Brew Drive-Thru coffee shop, which also would be a new entrant into the Lawrence coffee scene. That deal fell through, but I’m still operating under the assumption that the Arkansas-based chain is following through with previously announced plans to build a shop on Sixth Street. That shop would be located at Sixth and Folks Road, next to a new branch for Capitol Federal Savings.

The plans for the bank are definitely moving forward, as construction of the branch is underway, with a planned opening for this summer. Construction of a 7 Brew shop, however, does not appear to be underway. I’ve asked a representative with Capitol Federal for confirmation that the coffee shop component of the development is still moving forward. I’ll let you know if I hear that deal also has fallen through.


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