Restaurant business booming in downtown Lincoln

Chipotle isn't new to downtown Lincoln, but it's location in the Larson Building at 13th and P streets is.

Story and photos by Brandon Olson, NewsNetNebraska

Downtown Lincoln appears to have a monstrous appetite.

The capital city’s metropolitan center is filling up with a variety of new restaurants, especially in the area of 14th and P streets.

And for now, at least, nobody’s stepping on each other’s toes.

“It is encouraging to see, with all of these restaurants,” said Todd Ogden, marketing director for the Downtown Lincoln Association.

According to Ogden, 25 new restaurants have opened downtown since January 2010. That’s more than a quarter of the restaurants open in the area.

“I think a lot of businesses are seeing downtown as a place that’s going to grow,” Ogden said. He added that while the restaurants serve downtown’s 30,000 employees, the potential is another reason many businesses are choosing to locate in Lincoln.

The University of Nebraska-Lincoln is looking to increase enrollment under Chancellor Harvey Perlman’s long-term plans, which may also play a factor. Perlman says he wants to get to 30,000 undergraduate students, a 20 percent increase from current levels.

Revitalizing downtown

Block 38, the downtown block once home to discount movie theater StarShip 9, is at the center of much of the new restaurant expansion. The StarShip’s purchase and demolition by the city of Lincoln paved the way for what is now known as the Larson Building. The building occupies the north half of the block bounded by P, Q, 13th and 14th streets.

Chipotle was situated on the northwest corner of the block before the Larson Building construction began, but relocated during construction. The burrito chain now occupies the same corner of the block as part of the building. Panda Express and Firehouse Subs are setting up shop in the center of the north side of the building.

“They still have two extra spaces,” Ogden said, noting the potential for even more growth in the area. Mutual of Omaha Bank breaks up the food fest on the northeast corner with the only non-restaurant.

Hot spot: 14th and P

14th and P streets

The area around 14th and P streets has seen a lot of activity with new restaurants opening in the area.

Cornerstone Printing relocated from the corner of 14th and P streets, but that’s made way for a new favorite food outlet among students: Raising Cane’s. Students clamored for Cane’s when Planet Sub vacated its space in the University of Nebraska-Lincoln city campus union. Instead, Subway filled the spot this summer. But UNL students now have a Cane’s they can call their own.

Raising Cane’s also is open late on the weekends, serving up chicken fingers until 3 a.m. Thursdays through Saturdays. That’s something only a few other downtown eateries, like sandwich shop Jimmy John’s, do.

North of Raising Cane’s is another sub shop, Goodcents. The sandwich shop is familiar to Lincoln, but it has dropped the “Mr.” moniker from its branding on the store. Going in across 14th Street is Jersey Mike’s Subs. This is the space where Chipotle relocated while the Larson Building was under construction. Jersey Mike’s is another new franchise contender.

Jersey Mike's Subs
Jersey Mike’s Subs is a sandwich shop opening up that is new to Lincoln.

Big Ten connection

Another factor in the surge of new restaurants, believe it or not, is Nebraska’s move to the Big Ten Conference, Ogden said. Several of these franchises can be found in other Big Ten cities. Topper’s Pizza opened its Lincoln location in February. Topper’s started in Champaign, Ill., and also has locations in Madison, Wis., and Ann Arbor, Mich. Five Guys Burgers and Fries has locations in every Big Ten city except for Iowa City, Iowa.

Not all of the new-to-Lincoln franchises have a Big Ten connection though. Wahoo’s Tacos and More originated in Costa Mesa, Calif. Wahoo’s is just east of 14th and P, sandwiched between Noodles and Co. and the Lincoln Children’s Museum.

Ogden said the Downtown Lincoln Association generally lets the market dictate what and where new businesses set up shop.

“It’s looking good right now, but we’ll see how it goes in the future,” Ogden said.

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