Saturday, March 6, 2004
Freshly brewed beer and Lawrence have been on the mind of Ed Nelson for quite some time.
As a graduate student in the late 1980s at Kansas University's School of Business, Nelson was a frequent customer of the then newly opened Free State Brewing Co.
Fifteen years later, he's chief executive of the company that owns Kansas City, Mo.-based 75th Street Brewery. And he's about to become a competitor to Free State, his old stomping ground that has gone on to become a downtown institution.
Nelson confirmed Friday that he had signed a deal to open a 75th Street Brewery in the Emerson Biggins building at Kasold Drive and Clinton Parkway. Emerson Biggins, a sports bar and restaurant, will close Sunday. Nelson hopes to open 75th Street Brewery in four to eight weeks at the site.
"I'm excited to come back to Lawrence because my first brew pub experience was at Free State," Nelson said. "I rank Free State as one of the top five brew pubs in the country."
But Nelson is confident there is room for at least one more brewery in the city. He said his restaurant and bar should be successful because of the growth in western Lawrence and because his 11-year-old 75th Street Brewery in Kansas City had built a strong reputation.
"Our goal is to bring all of 75th Street Brewery's food and beer and all the lore associated with us in Kansas City to Lawrence and what we think is an awesome building and an awesome location," Nelson said.
The Lawrence location will keep the televisions and some of the sports bar theme, but Nelson said, like the Kansas City location, the business will focus more on the restaurant than the bar.
"The bar business really won't get started until 9 or 10 o'clock. Not 7," Nelson said. "We won't scare the families away. Our target customer will be the neighborhood. If we get some college students, that will just be icing on the cake."
Nelson said the menu and beer selections would be almost identical to what is offered at the Kansas City brewery, which serves a mix of steaks, sandwiches, fish and pizza, along with five to 10 varieties of freshly brewed beer.
Vince Downing, a manager with Emerson Biggins, said he was uncertain why the restaurant's ownership decided to sell the approximately 3-year-old business. But he said most of the restaurant's 30 employees had been offered work at 75th Street.
"They basically put out the welcome mat for us," Downing said.
At Free State Brewery, owner Chuck Magerl also put out a welcome mat of sorts. He said he thought the Lawrence market had grown enough for two brew pubs to prosper in the city.
"I certainly think there is room for two," Magerl said. "I don't think it will be much of a factor on our business."
Lawrence has been the unofficial brew pub capital of the state since Magerl opened Free State in 1989, becoming the first business to brew beer in Kansas since Prohibition started.
Several times during the past five years, three brew pubs have been operating in the city.
"I think when we had three in town, it per capita wise was probably the greatest density of brew pubs in the United States," Magerl said. "That was a bit of problem. The market obviously didn't support that."