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.”
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.
“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.
“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.”
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