The wait is over.
Ladybird Diner will reopen Tuesday evening, restaurant owner Meg Heriford confirmed Monday.
For those of you not in the know, Ladybird was forced to shutter in March after a fire at neighbor Biggs on Mass, 719 Massachusetts St., left the building with extensive smoke and water damage.
Since then, crews have been working to restore Ladybird to its original glory and remove any unsafe traces of smoke damage.
The big event, slated for 5 to 10 p.m., will see the debut of Ladybird’s “new and improved” dinner and cocktail menu, which Heriford and her team spent fine-tuning at the former Pachamamas space this summer.
Heriford said she and her employees approached the five-month hiatus as an opportunity to take stock of what the restaurant does well and what could be improved. The dinner menu, they decided, may have been neglected in favor of the diner’s popular breakfast and lunch selections.
On the new menu, you’ll find old Ladybird favorites like meatloaf and pot pie as well as newcomers like sweet-tea pork chops (served with grits, scallions, greens and charred tomatoes) and a vegetarian squash pasole.
“We’ve got my standard, church-basement style — stuff you’d find at a family reunion or Sunday at your mom’s house — but all the flavors and textures have become more dynamic,” she says. “I’m really excited for people to see.”
In addition to the classic breakfast cocktails they’re known for (think mimosas and bloody marys), Ladybird is serving up a new batch of boozy beverages designed to complement the enhanced dinner menu, Heriford says.
That includes “staff favorite” See-Through Sundress (made with watermelon-and-mint aqua fresca, tequila and cinnamon syrup) and other summer-y creations like the gin-and-brandy-laced Admiral’s Wife (“tastes like a wonderful raspberry iced tea, but loaded with booze,” Heriford teases) and a raspberry-rhubarb cooler called Aunt Sara’s Porch Swing, named after Heriford’s real-life relative.
Still, Heriford says she’s not “reinventing the wheel” at Ladybird. The space should look how customers left it in the spring, aside from a pair of display cases for the diner’s beloved homemade pies.
And doughnuts. They’re a new — and hotly anticipated — addition to the Ladybird menu. Heriford says she’ll have anywhere from 15 to 20 varieties, from the traditional to the zany.
“I call them ‘fussy doughnuts.’ We’ve been doing a lot of weird stuff with them,” says Heriford, who built hype during the restaurant's hiatus with occasional doughnut giveaways at the Pachamamas patio. “A lot of people haven’t had cotton candy or pistachios on a doughnut before, but this town is very adventurous in their eating and I think they’re ready for something different.”
But if you’re just looking for a classic glazed doughnut, Ladybird has those, too.
All proceeds from Tuesday’s dinner will benefit Douglas County CASA, Inc. — it’s a cause that’s close to Heriford’s heart, she says.
After that, the restaurant will tentatively return to regular hours (with fresh donuts and coffee available at 7 a.m. and the kitchen opening at 8 a.m.) Wednesday morning.
Lawrence, apparently, is a town that loves its doughnuts. It's a love that, when said doughnuts are offered up for free on a cloudy Tuesday afternoon at the now-closed Pachamamas patio, reaches biblical proportions.
"It was like a plague of locusts," Ladybird Diner owner Meg Heriford tells two women approaching her makeshift doughnut-giveaway area. Other doughnut seekers follow, and Heriford has to break the news to them, too: "Sorry, they're all gone."
Less than 30 minutes after announcing via Twitter that she would be giving away doughnuts "all you can carry" to anyone, all 400 of Heriford's colorful confections had been snatched up, leaving only crumbs on the sidewalk as proof of their existence.
Ladybird Diner was forced to close after a March 3 fire at its neighbor Bigg's on Mass. Since then, crews have been working to remove smoke damage and replace interior furnishings.
Luckily for foodies, Heriford has spent that time "fine-tuning" her menu, and has rented out Pachamamas to use as a test kitchen for the newest addition to Ladybird: doughnuts.
Heriford is taking an optimistic approach to the fire fallout, saying it has given her time to figure out how many doughnuts she'll need to churn out in order to keep up with demand when her restaurant opens back up later this summer. She declined to give a specific date, though she expects it to happen by the time college students are back in town.
She's kept her hand in the Lawrence dining scene during the interim period, selling Ladybird pies at The Bourgeois Pig for about a month earlier this summer, and also delivering doughnuts to local nonprofit organizations via her "doughnut mobile" in honor of National Doughnut Day on June 5.
In the meantime, Heriford said there will be more doughnut giveaways in the future.
Her lemon-filled doughnuts were a hit at Tuesday's event, which Heriford described as a dress rehearsal for when the doughnuts' debut at Ladybird. Other flavors leaned toward the traditional (chocolate cake doughnuts, coconut, peanut butter, and several varieties of old-fashioned, from vanilla to blackberry to salted caramel) while some were more wacky.
The "Triple-Decker Birthday" variety, for example, entailed three doughnuts stacked on top of each other — Heriford particularly enjoyed watching people figure out how to eat that one.
"We've got a good idea of what it'll take to produce a case full of doughnuts," Heriford says. "But I think pie will always be the star of the show. Pie is what we do."