Thursday, September 18, 2008

Steve Cole Is Back on the Scene, Now at the Marriott

Posted by on Thu, Sep 18, 2008 at 1:02 PM

By CHARLES FERRUZZA

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Steve Cole isn't just a local legend because he's a polished restaurateur, but also because of his style -- he can be a tough taskmaster, a true perfectionist. That's one of the reasons that his former restaurant, Café Allegro, was considered Kansas City’s most glamorous bistro for nearly twenty years. The food was exquisite, the appointments were beautiful, the service was elegant.

Well, not all the service: In the late 1980s, I occasionally worked for Cole as a freelance waiter when his restaurant operated the upscale concession areas at the Lyric Theatre. Mary Simpson, now a regional director for Rare Hospitality, was Café Allegro’s manager in those days and I could never put enough starch in my aprons to please her. And I ate a lot of the dainty pastries that I was supposed to be selling.

After Cole sold Cafe Allegro in 2002, he didn’t jump right back in the restaurant game. He did some consulting work for other restaurants but was best-known for handling commercial real estate deals for restaurant and hospitality locations.

Last month, he took on a new challenge when veteran hotel operator Kevin Pistilli hired him as the food and beverage director for the Kansas City Downtown Marriott. Before taking the job, Cole had been working as a consultant on various projects with Pistilli. That included creating potential new concepts for the historic Muehlebach Hotel’s long-closed Rendezvous Room and its somewhat forlorn coffee shop, the Pam Pam Room.

I’ve never been shy about expressing my overwhelmingly negative opinion about the Pam Pam Room -- or the equally awful Lilly’s Restaurant in the Marriott across the street. So I asked Cole about his plans for those two sad little venues.

“We haven’t addressed the future of the Pam Pam yet,” Cole said. “But Lilly’s is definitely going to be changed. It’s part of the major renovation planned for the Marriott lobby next spring.”

That enormous lobby will be reconfigured with what Cole calls a dramatic bar -- a gathering space for espresso and a light breakfast in the mornings, then a “day-night” bar serving stylish lunches and dinners. As for Lilly’s, Cole promised an entirely new concept, a new name, different food and an outdoor terrace.

“It’s a challenge,” he said, “but an exciting one. I’m enjoying this job more every day. In fact, my wife Julie even noticed that I’ve been looking very happy since I started.”

Cole said he might let me be one of the first guests to eat breakfast in the new Lilly’s – or whatever it’s called – when it opens in 2009. At least I won’t have to wear a starched apron.

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