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Restaurateur shuts dining room, finds success

Staff writer

Under 701 Café had been a well-liked lunch spot in Newton for nearly three years until a pandemic forced owner Mike Lewis to change lanes.

Customers did not return to his dining room in the numbers they had before state-mandated shutdowns emptied it, both of which hurt his bottom line.

“People weren’t wanting to get out,” he said. “They were no longer OK with being seated.”

Lewis corrected course by closing his brick-and-mortar location and investing in a food truck that visits small towns in Marion and McPherson counties — a gamble that has put his eatery back on a roll.

“It’s been a lot better than I thought it was gonna go,” he said Monday. “It’s been amazing.”

Under 701 Café has been an extension of Lewis’ mission as a longtime personal trainer and nutritionist to provide the dining public with healthy food.

The menu features a variety of salads, wraps, sandwiches and sides that all are under 701 calories.

“I have always loved sandwich-type meals, wraps and dark greens,” he said. “I add my own swing and spin on things.”

Switching to a food truck that offers ready takeout and can travel to diners made sense to Lewis, who felt stuck in a market with too much competition.

Leaving his customers in Newton has been hard, but he has changed course after setbacks before.

A native of Springfield, Missouri, Lewis was a star pitcher with a 93-mile-an-hour fastball that drew the interest of the New York Mets. A motorcycle crash that damaged his hand cost him his chance.

“I was riding a wheelie and popped it too far back and let go,” he said. “I was lucky I didn’t die.”

Lewis got right back on the motorcycle. He still rides a Harley today.

He continued to work out and became certified as a trainer at Heritage College, Wichita.

He researched his latest venture very carefully, deliberately selecting Marion, Hillsboro, and Peabody in Marion County because they have few food offerings like his. He also sets up shop in Canton and Moundrige.

“They seem to be places that are working out the best,” he said. “And when they try our food, they’re like ‘Wow!’ ”

A customer favorite is cornmash, a corn bread dish with corn, and honey baked until it is super soft.

“We cannot keep it in,” he said. “I make a ton of the stuff every day and it’s gone.”

Business has been steady in Marion, and visits to Hillsboro keep him “very busy,” which surprises him because Under 701 Café is parked near a Wendy’s and Subway.

But the reception in Peabody has absolutely stunned him.

“Peabody’s been crazy,” he said. “It’s been really busy. I was shocked.”

Under 701 Cafe has also been such a hit at area craft fairs, private parties, and weddings that Lewis has had to decline dates to keep from being overbooked.

“I have had to turn down about eight to 10 events in the last two months because we’ve been so busy,” he said.

Lewis has plans to get new generators and heaters for winter. Permanent plug-ins would get rid of the hassle of hauling them, he said.

He also is strongly considering dropping a shelf and switching the position of the truck’s menu to allow for a drive-through.

For now, he is just happy to have found a way to roll with the punches and hopes he finds customers who will give the revamped eatery a chance.

“They need to try our food,” he said. “If they haven’t tried it they need to… In my restaurant almost all of my employees ate there every day, and that’s really a testament.”

Under 701 Café’s winter hours:

  • Monday – 11 a.m. to 6 p.m., Marion
  • Tuesday — 11 a.m. to 6 p.m., Hillsboro
  • Wednesday – 11 a.m. to 2 p.m., Moundridge
  • Thursday – 11a.m. to 2 p.m., Canton
  • Friday — 11 a.m. to 2 p.m., Peabody

Last modified Nov. 25, 2020

 

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