The gas pumps at the Cenex station on 23rd Street are going away. But the falafel and kebabs that draw customers for much more than a fill-up are staying.
Recognizing that his store is generally teeming with people there for the Mediterranean food but that few are buying gas, owner Hanif Lakhani has decided to eliminate the gas station entirely.
Lakhani plans to turn what is now called Fresh Mediterranean into a ”full-blown fast-casual restaurant,” he said, similar in format to Chipotle, with meals custom-made to order. He plans to change the store’s name so that it can be rebranded and trademarked.
He also intends to renovate the inside of the restaurant, removing the gas pumps to make space for patio seating or more parking. He hopes to have the changes made by next spring.
The idea to transform the space exclusively into a restaurant emerged as a result of the business’s growing success. In the six years it has been open, Fresh Mediterranean has experienced slow and steady growth, Lakhani said.
Though many restaurants suffered during the pandemic, Fresh Mediterranean thrived, he said. Customers flocked to the gas station near 23rd and Alabama streets to take meals home to their families, many of them perhaps feeling like they were in on a secret.
The food at Fresh Mediterranean is authentic, made in-house by a chef from Kansas City. The menu is simple, and protein- and rice-based options include spiced chicken on a revolving spit, tender slices of beef and lamb, falafel, hummus, gyros and fresh-made pita.
Rice bowls, which can be laden with a variety of Greek sauces, are also popular.
Lakhani owns several gas stations in Kansas City, he said. Some of his others serve Mexican food, but he wanted his Lawrence location to serve his favorite cuisine. He and some of his employees eat from the menu almost daily.
Lakhani has plans to expand the Fresh Mediterranean concept by opening two casual dining restaurants in Kansas City as well.
And although Fresh Mediterranean has succeeded so far, there are still many people in town who do not know it exists, Lakhani said. He hopes rebranding will solve that. And he’s confident that once people come in and try the food, they will come back for more.
“People that come, they love it,” he said.
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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.