Last month, the restaurant industry's best-known trade publication, Nation's Restaurant News
, named the 60-year-old Jasper's Restaurant to its "Fine Dining Hall of Fame," along with Momofuku Ko in New York City, Incanto in San Francisco, and the Hot and Hot Fish Club in Birmingham, Alabama.
The current incarnation of Jasper's is hardly a casual restaurant, but it's not as glamorous (or as expensive) as the more formal venue at 75th Street and Wornall during the years 1968-97. At that time, Jasper's (which the family patriarch Jasper Mirabile Sr. had opened in 1954 originally as a bar and grill) was the only truly upscale Italian dining room in Kansas City; servers in tuxedos and white gloves prepared classic tableside dishes like fettuccine Alfredo, peppered steak, chateaubriand.
The elder Mirabile insisted that all four of his sons - Leonard, Salvatore, James and Jasper Jr. - work in the restaurant. "We all started the same way," Jasper Mirabile Jr. says. "First slicing bread in the kitchen, then moving to the salad station line, then into the dining room. We had to work every position in the place."
At one point, Jasper Jr. was a tuxedo-wearing busboy following his older brother Leonard, already a server, around the dining room. Leonard and Jasper Jr. were the only Mirabile sons interested in the restaurant business: Salvatore became a lawyer, and James is a physician.
Jasper's was so well-known as Kansas City's snazziest Italian restaurant that it attracted a celebrity clientele. (In the 1980s, Mitzi Gaynor announced from the stage of the Midland Theater that she was "going straight to Jasper's" after the curtain came down on her variety show.) But Jasper Mirabile Sr. - in ill health by the end of the 1990s - understood that the restaurant industry was on the verge of a massive shake-up.
Before his family moved his namesake restaurant to its current location at 1201 West 103rd Street, Jasper Sr. insisted that the new venue be much less formal than the 75th Street location. No more tuxedos, no more tableside preparation of Caesar salads and flaming cherries Jubilee. And no more Mr. Mirabile - a larger-than-life personality - ruling the dining room, insisting that his male patrons wear jackets and commanding that the wearing of hats inside was verboten. Mirabile Sr. died in 1998, a month before the 103rd Street restaurant opened.
"I didn't want to let go of our old way of doing things," Jasper Jr. says. "I always told my dad that there would always be a need for a place with fine dining. He told me that I wasn't looking outside the box. 'You're going to see more restaurants with a casual atmosphere,' he told me. 'And people will be going out to eat more than once a week.'
"From the day we opened the new restaurant, he was 100 percent right," Mirabile Jr. says.
Mirabile says his family was overwhelmed by the Nation's Restaurant News
award. "This was something that our father worked for, strived for. We haven't lost his vision. We want to make sure that Kansas City always has an icomic Italian restaurant."