Sarah Busse, owner of Archibowls, is hoping for a Hallmark-movie miracle. The kind where local community members learn the restaurant is closing and pour into the venue in droves.
Busse is hoping for a gift from the universe that could keep her beloved restaurant open, but she is skeptical of its likelihood.
“I pretty much need my sales to be double what they are, and I just don’t think that that can happen quickly enough,” she said.
Busse opened Archibowls at 125 E. 10th St. in 2018. From Colorado, Busse specialized in tamale pies and chili with both vegan and pork options.
In 2019, Busse — a vegan herself — became uncomfortable processing animal parts, so she decided to make her menu exclusively vegan.
“After going vegan … it just all kind of fell into place for me, that that was the right direction to go,” she said. “That was a huge risk. There’s not a lot of vegans. It’s a tiny percentage of the community. But Lawrence is an open-minded town and people just like good food. And so I was like, let’s just try it out.”
She stuck with the Tex-Mex comfort-food theme, eliminating meat and cheese from her menu. She kept the chilis, loaded rice bowls, taco salad, and loaded baked potatoes. She also created some desserts: walnut brownies, chocolate truffle butter cups, cheese cake, and peanut butter pie.
Making her menu vegan aligned with her integrity, but it came at a cost, Busse said.
“I think it did hurt the business a lot,” she said. “A lot of people just aren’t interested in trying vegan food in the first place.”
Busse said she had hoped to provide a special dining experience for guests, and that, at least for a while, she did.
“(I remember) those special restaurants that were like family favorites and everybody would get all excited when we heard we were going there and it was a really special thing, and I definitely wanted to deliver that kind of feeling here,” she said. “I feel like that goal was accomplished.”
When the pandemic shut down in-person dining early in 2020, Archibowls did takeout for the rest of the year.
Busse donated thousands of dollars worth of food to hungry patrons, sometimes to parents looking for food for their children who were suddenly out of school during lockdown.
“I think we were one of the few places where it was actually a hot food that was prepared for you when you showed up,” Busse said.
Busse said she felt an obligation to nourish people who were having a hard time by giving them a warm meal.
“It boosted our morale a lot, too,” she said. “It helped get us through it, actually. I mean, maybe not financially — but emotionally.”
Business has never returned to pre-COVID levels for Archibowls. This reality was disheartening to Busse.
“I would have a day here where we’re making a bunch of homemade food and we’re charging really reasonable prices — you can eat here for the same as a fast food place,” she said. “And I would have a really crappy day here, hardly make any money — losing money pretty much every day. And I drive down Sixth Street, and McDonald’s would have a line 20 cars deep.”
She’s not sure how much longer she will be able to hold onto Archibowls — weeks, a month, two? She’ll need a movie miracle to remain open much longer than that.
“What I’m telling people right now is, if it’s a miracle, … where all of a sudden, everything just turns around and all kinds of coincidences fall perfectly into place, then yeah, that would be awesome,” she said. “I love this place and this community. And I really want to build a future here with this business. That’s what I’ve been at for the whole time. It’s pretty hard to let that go.”
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Chansi Long (she/her) reported for The Lawrence Times from July 2022 through August 2023. Read more of her work for the Times here.