Thursday, December 30, 2004
Baldwin A 6-month-old Lawrence pizza shop is expanding into Baldwin.
Wheat State Pizza, which opened in June at the Malls Shopping Center in southeast Lawrence, is adding a restaurant in a former Subway shop at 711 Eighth St. in downtown Baldwin.
Owners of the new place -- Ryan Murphy, Wheat State's founder and owner, and Scott Johnson, a Wheat State manager -- are confident that they can succeed in a market where two established pizza places already serve the city's 3,800 residents.
"It's not quite the competition we have in Lawrence," said Murphy, who previously has managed Gambino's, Papa John's and Domino's locations in the Lawrence and Kansas City areas. "In the business world, if you don't take a chance, you won't succeed. Obviously, I've already taken an chance in Lawrence, and it's working."
Downtown at Walt's Pizza Cafe -- a former Gambino's restaurant -- employees are wondering what the new year will bring.
"I really don't see that there's room for three here," said Michelle Egler, a Baker University student and soccer player from Valley, Neb., who works at Walt's. "I come from a small town, and I know it isn't big enough for three. Maybe people are really pizza fans around here, but I see one of them (restaurants) not making it in the future.
"I just hope it's not us."
Over at Pizza Hut, Kelly Rucker isn't worried. The dine-in and carryout restaurant on U.S. Highway 56 is certain to weather the competitive storm, he said, should one materialize.
"Pizza Hut will hold up," said Rucker, a manager at the corporate-owned restaurant. "But personally, I think they're wasting their time. The town's not big enough."
The new Wheat State will be a New York-style pizzeria, where customers can watch pies being made as they wait. The place covers about 2,000 square feet and will have seating for about 40 people.
Johnson, who previously worked for Murphy at Papa John's and Domino's locations in Lawrence, said he was excited about getting a chance to own and operate his own restaurant. Johnson's wife, Ari -- another veteran of Murphy-managed restaurants -- will work at the place part time, along with another five to seven employees.
Scott Johnson is confident that Wheat State will be able to grab a considerable slice of Baldwin's pizza market.
"In a small town everyone tries your restaurant at least once, just because it's the new thing in town," Scott Johnson said.
"And we know that we have the kind of product that if you taste it once, you won't want to go to the other places. It's that addictive."