Paradise lost

Downtown cafe to focus on bar, entertainment


Journal-World File Photo

Schuyler Lister, investor and manager of daily operations for Paradise Cafe, 728 Mass., says the business will no longer serve food. Lister, pictured in the restaurant's bar in September, said Monday the downtown establishment would focus on its entertainment and bar business.

It's the end of an era for Paradise Cafe, a downtown Lawrence landmark.

The restaurant at 728 Mass. is no longer serving food, Schuyler Lister, an investor and manager of daily operations, said Monday. The focus now will be on the bar and entertainment aspect of the business, he said.

About 35 employees were laid off, Lister said. That left about a half-dozen employees to handle the remaining business.

Lister said the Sept. 11, 2001, terrorist attacks and their effect on the nation's economy, along with increased restaurant competition in Lawrence, were to blame.

"There are only so many pieces of the pie you can slice up," said Lister, who in July 2002 became an investor in the business with Steve McCoy, the owner of record. "There are too many restaurants downtown and in Lawrence in general."

McCoy, a longtime owner and partner in the business, couldn't be reached for comment.


Journal-World File Photo

Employees were informed of the decision Sunday afternoon and there was an employee get-together after the 4 p.m. closing time, Lister said. Employees showed mixed emotions.

"It was a bit of a wake, and they're sad, but I think they understand," he said. "They enjoyed the opportunity to get together."

Steve Brown, who had worked as a dishwasher at the restaurant, agreed.

"It was solemn at first, then people loosened up," Brown said about employees getting the news.

Brown, who was in the bar Monday night, said he was continuing to work for the bar as needed, cleaning and doing other jobs.

"I have no animosity," he said. "I knew sooner or later this might happen. I enjoyed the people I worked with. Sometimes dreams don't come true, but you have to keep pushing for it."

Paradise is closed Mondays and there were no other employees around earlier in the day.

Lister left the door open to the possibility of restarting restaurant operations later. Talks are being conducted with others who might be interested in taking over both the food and entertainment operations, he said, but declined to elaborate.

"I think the food here was outstanding," Lister said. "I do think there is room for a rock diner. The bar has really been performing well."

Paradise offers music entertainment six nights a week. In August, the restaurant closed for a month for remodeling to accommodate a new bakery and doughnut shop. The bakery also is closed. At the time, Lister planned to streamline the menu to allow the kitchen to operate more quickly.

Paradise, which has been in operation since 1984, doesn't have to meet the city's ordinance requiring bars to have a certain percentage of sales from food business because it was grandfathered in under an older law, Lister said.

In its heyday, Paradise was a popular downtown cafe known for its "good real food" that often had a crowd of diners waiting on the sidewalk to get a table. At first, Paradise served only breakfast and lunch, adding a white-tablecloth evening meal and nighttime hours some years later.

"I want to thank the community of Lawrence -- especially the regulars," said Lister, who also owns the retail shop Creation Station. "I've enjoyed the opportunity to get to know people.


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