May open are the operative words here. No firm funding is currently in place for Jonathan Justus -- the talented chef-owner of the Justus Drugstore restaurant in Smithville -- to follow his vision and open a new restaurant in historic Film Row. Justus says a Kansas City-based management team is working with him to find investors for a casual-dining spot, to be called Universal: A Modern American Brasserie.
The proposed restaurant would be in the 1930s structure at 1700 Wyandotte that was, for decades, the Kansas City office of the Universal Studios Film Exchange. The inset frames designed to hold the latest Universal movie posters are still features of the building's facade.
The address was last occupied by Studio Dan Meiners. The florist and event planner moved from the 9,000-square-foot Film Row building to a larger venue on West Pennway last year. The building is still for lease, but Justus is hoping that the team behind the proposed Universal: A Modern American Brasserie will have a deal in place before the end of the year.
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"My initial thought was to call the restaurant by the building's original name, the Universal Exchange," Justus says. "But Ryan Maybee and Howard Hanna beat me to the punch by using the word for their restaurant, the Rieger Hotel Grill & Exchange."
Justus wanted to be cautious about opening a second location because he didn't want to compete with his Smithville restaurant, which has won national acclaim for its use of regional ingredients in stylish, elegantly prepared dishes.
"I couldn't do another Justus Drugstore and I wouldn't," he says. "For most of our patrons, driving to Smithville -- which can be a long drive -- and eating in this restaurant is an event. Since the new restaurant will literally be within walking distance of the new Performing Arts Center, the performances there will be the event, and the restaurant will be for dinner before or after the performance."
As a pre-show dining spot, Justus says, the new menu would be less complicated, and service would be faster -- but not rushed. And the restaurant would require later hours for theatergoers who want a bite to eat -- or a cocktail or snack after an event at the Performing Arts Center or any of the other cultural venues downtown.
"I'm going to design a late-night menu just for those patrons," Justus says. "The focus on all of the menus will be the kind of classic American comfort dishes that we don't serve here. And less expensive than Justus Drugstore."
Justus is hoping that the project moves ahead: "I'd really like for this to happen," he says. "It would be a great venue to do things I can't do at our Smithville restaurant. You know, my background is as a painter before I became a chef. I need to create, and I have the tools and the canvas to do that, in a culinary fashion, at Justus Drugstore. But I love eating really well-prepared, simple comfort food, and I'd like to create those dishes, too."