715 simultaneously promotes itself & local arts scene with uniquely original idea.

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With its classy simplicity, restaurant 715 is one of the gems of downtown Lawrence. The 2018 Best of Lawrence awards – voted on by the people of the city – named the eatery at 715 Massachusetts Street “Best Dining Ambiance,” “Best Date Spot,” and gave the bar “Best Wine List” and “Best Place to get a Mixed Drink/Cocktail.”

While awards are impressive and bring notice, the European-style restaurant and bar has really made its bones by paying attention to the little details, and changing with the wants and desires of its customers since it opened in the fall of 2009. According to Matt Hyde, manager and part owner of 715, the restaurant has evolved over time, depending on both what the owners have felt like and what the guests are in the mood for. He points out the current 715 menu as an example.

“Right now – this time of year – with our new chef, Jake Dodds-Sloan, it's very vegetable-focused,” Hyde explains. In summertime, vegetables are plentiful, since they're in-season, and it's something that's light and fresh. “This time of year, I don't think anybody wants to eat squash – like, butternut squash. They want zucchini.”

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However, while 715 tries to be flexible and pay attention to seasonal availability, there are core items that stay on the menu year-round. As a recent Instagram post noted, when they attempted to replace the spaghetti with tuna, mozzarella, and capers with something else, “a bunch of people freaked out,” so they “un-replaced it” and “people chilled.”

“We have a core menu of things that are on there year-round, and then we rotate things in,” Hyde says. Even the cocktail menu follows suit. “We've broken it out in to 715 standards, classic cocktails, and then seasonal cocktails. We do an early spring, then a late spring, a hot hot summer.”

715's bar manager Katrina Weiss swaps out her cocktails not just four times a year, because it'll still be summer at the beginning of September, explains Hyde. They never set a date – the folks at the restaurant just look at the forecast and plan accordingly. Case in point: the day we were talking, it was sweltering hot out, and thanks to a suggestion from Twitter, they were making sangria.

As 715 has aged, the way the restaurant presents itself has changed somewhat. When they first opened , they had several different t-shirts available for purchase, and they were prominently displayed above the host station by the front door.

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“We had some for the staff, and people asked about them, so we sold a few of those,” Hyde says of early merchandising for the restaurant. However, merchandise never really became a solid thing for 715 – he says they probably still have a bunch of shirts in storage – so, they've pivoted in terms of what they do to promote themselves, and it's quite novel.

“What we've done to try to mix it up a little is the coasters,” the manager says, lifting up a water glass to show off one of the drink mats 715 has custom-made by Blue Collar Press. “We're on our second series of coasters with local artists. We've got four different coasters, with the story of the artist on the back.”

Hyde has been part of the Lawrence arts scene for years – his first restaurant job was washing dishes at the former downtown institution, Tellers, because he needed a flexible schedule to be involved with music things (he helped found the Lawrence record label, Lotuspool, in the early '90s). The building in which 715 sits was Silverworks, a jeweler, which was around for nearly 30 years, so Hyde says that's a way to maintain a connection to the history of the building, as well as the present of the arts scene in Lawrence.

The coasters feature work by local artists, and with the assistance of Alicia Kelly, the curated series has an image of a piece on one side, with a brief explanation of it, along with biographical details and contact information on the reverse. It's simple, but it's different, and it's definitely far more interesting to see artwork – especially, say, artist John Niswonger's image of Leatherface from The Texas Chainsaw Massacre rendered in stained glass – as opposed to the restaurant's logo or yet another Budweiser advertisment.

“Just trying to hit the arts, because we don't have art displayed on the walls,” Hyde says, pointing to the bare stone of the south wall, and the plain, painted north. “We wanted to have a way to get the word out about artists.  There's also a poetry installment coming soon, curated by the Raven Bookstore's Danny Caine.

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“Jim McCrary, the poet came up with the idea,” Hyde continues. “He was like, 'Why don't you do poetry?' and I was like, 'That's a great idea.'”

Local musician and Raven employee Chris Luxem even suggested using compact discs as coasters, but the restaurant will be sticking with the thick, hefty coasters they've been getting from Blue Collar. As Hyde points out, these four-inch by four-inch squares are pretty much ready for display, as is.

“What I like about these is, you can clip a little magnet on them and put them on the fridge,” he suggests. “Because I'm such a fan of the arts, it's great to be able to have some [artwork] here, because then, if you end up going to any of the Final Fridays or the [Ladies of Lawrence Art] events, maybe you'll see it again.”

It's great, Hyde says, because the 715 staff sees older women in their 60s and 70s quietly sneaking coasters into their purses when they think nobody's looking, but he assures everyone that they're meant to be taken.

“They're pretty – having a set of these on your coffee table at home is kinda cool, because it's not same-old, same-old, you know?” Hyde gestures to the rest of the restaurant from where he's seated by the front windows. “It's pretty monochromatic here, with the wood and the rock, but then we've got the black tables, white dishes, white napkins – so it's nice to have this little bit of color without it being obnoxious.”

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Hyde points to any number of art openings, concerts, readings, and multiple other events taking place in Lawrence on any given night, and how great it is that 715 gets to be a part of that on the regular. He hopes that the coasters can give back a small amount of that joy to community.

“We like to have all of that interaction with the arts, and this is just one way we can continue to have that interaction and support the local scene in our own way,” Hyde concludes. “I have no idea if it's provided anything other than enjoyment for me, but it's cool to help people, you know?”

Story by Nick Spacek.  Photos by Austin Snell

Wild Territory introduces multiple generations to science through merchandise

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Before opening Wild Territory Science & Nature Store, her science and natural history shop at 942 Massachusetts St. in downtown Lawrence, owner Joyce Donham worked as the Oklahoma City Zoo for 11 years, where she was the education curator. It was during her time there that she started the business that would turn into the cool and quirky shop.

“On the weekends and stuff, I started going to flea markets, selling science items and biology – alligator heads and stuff like that,” is how Donham describes the store's early days. Then, when she moved back to Lawrence after time away, she figured she'd either get her Masters or open a store.

“If the hills weren't so bad here, I'd've gone to KU for my Masters,” she says with a grin and a laugh. Wild Territory first opened in 2002, just a block north on the other side of the street, operating out of the back half of a storefront it shared with Prairie Pond Studio. After two years, though, Donham was able to find a storefront of her own, and has been in her current location since 2004.

The store is described on the Wild Territory website as a “unique education store,” which specializes in “providing basic as well as unusual and intriguing natural history and science products for our customers,” but that only scratches the surface of what you can find in Donham's shop. It's a veritable cornucopia of products to tempt kids and kids-at-heart.

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A glance in any direction will reveal fossils, mounted insects under glass, microscopes, a Lost In Space action figure, and t-shirts featuring everything from the caffeine molecule to glow-in-the-dark skeletons. It's all tastefully arranged, and pretty amazing, but the counter with insects, fossils, and a dizzying array of animal bones attracts the most traffic. It's no surprise, given Donham's background.

“We emphasize every aspect of science, but biology is really my forte,” the store owner explains, as her degree is in biology education. It's a very tactile kind of store, and Donham loves the fact that her store is a place where kids can see things in person they might have otherwise only viewed online or in books, as well as the fact that they can touch them – which is so much better than a museum.

“It's really great, because we get to introduce [kids] to science,” Donham describes the way mothers and fathers in Lawrence bring their children to Wild Territory. “This town is a very educational community.”

She's quite proud of living in a town that cares so much about science, and the fact that her store is now something of a multi-generational favorite. Having been open for almost 17 years now, some of the customers who came in when they were young, now bring in children of their own to Wild Territory.

“It drops me for a loop,” Donham says. “I heard one lady tell her child, 'This was mommy's favorite store when she was little,' and I was just – 'Holy cow! How old am I?' It does shock you, but it's very nice.”

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Located just two doors up from The Toy Store, the science and nature store sees a lot of business during the summer holiday break, as well as at Christmas, but people are in and out of the shop year-round (during our short conversation at the shop's front counter, two entire families come in and make a circuit around the store).

While Wild Territory sells quite a few t-shirts with logos ranging from Star Trek to an Einstein t-shirt that looks like the Aerosmith logo, in terms of store-branded merchandise, Donham says that Wild Territory logo t-shirts are very popular. When she sees someone wearing one, it makes her happy.

“It's like, 'Wow, that's great,'” she says. “It's fantastic – we know that what we're selling is working, and that people enjoy and like it.”

It's not just Lawrencians who buy those shirts, either, continues Donham, because visitors to Wild Territory are the sort who, if they stop there once, will stop by every time they're in town.

“We have a lot of people who come for conferences at KU,” she says, listing off a slew of international visitors to the store: “From Norway, Africa, England, Canada – you name it. Everywhere. They'll come in for a conference, and then buy one and take it back to their university or their museum.”

While some of Dunham's shirts are ordered pre-made from other companies, she gets her Wild Territory logo t-shirts from Blue Collar Press. She describes the positives of working with a local business to get that merchandise as being on the same wavelength.

“I can just call and say, 'Can you change this a little bit?', and get it right down to exactly what I want,” Donham says of her experiences working with Blue Collar Press. “It can be real simple, and it's taken care of, and I get exactly what I want.”

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A further example of just how far Blue Collar is willing to go to help a customer started with Donham. When she'd come to pick things up in winter months, the front desk manager would carry out her shirts to her, due to ice on the steep incline to the front door of their current warehouse.

“It was just the nicest thing,” Donham says. “I didn't even ask – they just started doing it for me.”

After taking notice of the trouble Donham had with the large boxes in which her shirts came, Blue Collar started a free Friday delivery for her, and eventually extended the service city-wide to their Lawrence customer base, essentially starting an entire business initiative out of a desire to help just one customer who needed it.

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The logo, found on those t-shirts, was designed by a customer, who did it as a favor, freshening up the shop's original sign – which still hangs on Wild Territory's back wall. While that logo was designed by an advertising professional, the current logo was a fan of the store who just wanted to give something back to a place she liked.

“She just came in and said she could make it look nice, and that's the one we're using,” Donham says with no small amount of amazement. “They're so nice! Just lovely people.”

As far as niceness goes, Donham and Wild Territory give back to the community which gives to them, especially to charities which go along with the store's mission of biology and education, like the Lawrence Humane Society, the Special Olympics, or the Jayhawk Audubon Society's annual Kaw Valley Eagles Day every January.

“We give away shirts all the time,” says Donham. “We donate a lot – probably more than I should, but sometimes, it's a worthwhile cause that I support wholeheartedly.”