On New Year’s Eve I’m reflecting upon all the restaurants we lost this year. A devastating blow to the food community in Kansas City. Many people are still unaware of this and the effect of our loss won’t be fully felt until our collective vaccinated bodies are looking at OpenTable to make reservations. Let’s pour one out for the ones that we’ve lost and raise a glass to those that are still with us so that we can continue to support them in 2021.
A huge part of me is my love and passion for restaurants. It’s not just for the sake of going, no. It’s so much more than that and I’ll do my best to explain. Growing up, I don’t remember going “out for dinner” very often. Raised by my grandparents who owned franchises (Taco Johns of the 80s was bomb) and so I grew up in the back office, waiting for the delivery man to drop off cookie dough that I would sneakily get into, salmonella was no match for me. I would make time machines and castles out of the boxes the bread came in, getting lost in my own small world. When I was old enough, I ran the register and took delivery orders. My grandmother used to joke, “Good help is so hard to find, we had to make you to get it!” As an adult who has worked in the service industry, that makes so much more sense now.
Even at seven years old, I realized the joy my grandparents gave people who came to their shop. Once, we even had a Bette Midler impersonator sing during our Grand Opening. I thought I had made it. The smiles on everyone’s face as “Bette” sang Wind Beneath My Wings next to the highway was as magical as a seven year old could imagine and the full hearts and bellies of our patrons brought so much joy to my little world. Before they put me to work, I would play with my dolls at the register. Confidently and precociously handing a customer a Barbie, be it an old man or young woman, and somewhat forcing them to play while they waited on their order. I’m sure that was really annoying (and not good for business??) but I don’t recall anyone ever not going along with it. I was an only child and so anyone who walked through that door had the potential to be my playmate.
When I was just tall enough to reach the counter, my grandmother brought a crate out and had me take the money. Oh what a wonderful job that was. I was never really any good at math but the “money machine” told me what to do and I would give back change with ease. People were surprised to see little me taking their credit cards but I was quick and efficient and took the role quite seriously. Soon, I graduated to taking delivery orders which got me over my shyness really quick. “Thank you for calling Sobiks, this is Cynthia.” my tiny voice would say. Often, I would get reactions like, “Um, is this…are you taking my order?” “Yes, what would you like?” Hesitantly, they would continue, “Ok, a Cuban please, extra pickles, a side of chips and a chocolate chip cookie.” “Address?” I’d ask. “Phone number to reach you?” “Thank you for calling Sobiks, we will have your delivery to you soon!” and I’d run the ticket to the line and run back to my post. We were quite busy back then, lines out the door every day at lunch. Everyone who worked there was my friend and we were a little family. It helped that everyone loved my grandma, she has a bright energy and a contagious smile. “Hi, Karen!” people would call out and wave as they walked in. “Hi, Bill, Hi Marilyn.” she would say, knowing her regulars and creating regulars out of newbies. My grandfather worked in the back mostly, slicing meat, taking inventory, doing dishes. I loved running back to check on him, sitting on his lap at lunch or him taking breaks to play dolls with me when the rush was over. All I knew was the service industry life. I loved the people, the smell of good food cooking and making people happy with every bite. As a family, we made friends that we are still in touch with to this day. Jamie, who has known me since I was six, said, “You handed me a Barbie and that was it – I knew I’d be in your life forever.”
So when I hear of another restaurant closing, I think of all the memories they have made inside the walls. The moments we don’t see. The jokes, the family meals, the long nights and early mornings. The comradery, the dedication and the love. It’s more than a place to get a meal. So many of the restaurants in Kansas City are the backdrop for memories in my life. So many dates (for better or worse), so many dinners with friends. Sometimes, me alone saddled up at the bar with a book and a glass of wine. We create our life around the people and places we love and the places I dine are no exception.
A couple weeks ago, I ordered the Grilled Cheese and tomato soup for the last time from Westside Local. The crispy bread, creamy melty cheese dipped in the rich and flavorful goodness of their tomato soup. Pair that with their parsley and parmesan fries and you have a match made in heaven. When they announced their closing, I placed an order immediately. Some of the restaurants on this list closed before it was even announced, the doors shuttering before one could pay their respects. The moment CaVa posted their closing, I made two reservations; one being on New Years Eve. I’ve written about this place before but what I’ll say again is that it’s one of those places that gives me a sense of home, of comfort and warmth. There was no other place I wanted to wrap up the end of a far from wonderful year. At 5:00 we poured champagne and toasted in the New Year when they did in Paris. It was one of those beautiful moments that makes CaVa such a celebratory place.
When this is over, we will want these places back. I know I will be doing my best to support local while keeping safe. Having dined this year in the restaurants where I know they are taking all precautions, I’ve been safe and have been able to support local all the while. When the masks are lifted (and Mask Off by Future hits #1 on the charts) we will wonder what happened to this places our memories are harbored. See below for some of the ones we’ve lost in 2020.
CaVa (with hopes to reopen in the Spring)
The Corner Restaurant
Brady’s Public House
Parkway Social Kitchen
Plaza III Steakhouse
The Clubhouse Experience
Papa Kenos Pizza – Westport