“I’m used to people looking at me when they need something, but then the staff would tell me, ‘No, Sheri, they’re looking at you because you were on television.’ I’m used to working hard. I’m not used to just getting noticed,” Parr says.
The gawkers came in the months after Parr and her 13-year-old restaurant appeared on the Food Network’s Diners, Drive-Ins and Dives, to see the rock bar and scratch kitchen that kicks out dishes like the Oklahoma Dog: a Boulevard-beer-battered, deep-fried hot dog wrapped in bacon. They’ve stayed because the Brick isn’t about gimmicks. It’s a soulful representation of a woman, who will be the first to tell you that she’s not a chef; she just happens to have been around great food all her life.
Parr is a Kansas girl. Born in Wichita, she grew up in Topeka and in Kansas City, Missouri. In Topeka, she ate pheasant parmesan — her dad was an avid hunter. In Kansas City, it was all the Italian classics from her maternal grandmother, Louise Graves, who had run Vic’s Diner with her husband, Vic. It was a 24-hour diner that dished up Italian cuisine and mashed potatoes.
“My dad was a fabulous cook. My grandmother was a fabulous cook,” Parr says.
“My mom was a good cook, too. It was just that my dad did a lot of the cooking. He was from Jersey and when he got here, he just loved the idea that he could grow it, catch it or kill it.”
Parr graduated with a business degree from Washburn University and took a job as a bartender and cocktail waitress at the Grand Emporium in Kansas City while she was figuring out what she wanted to do with that degree. Close to a decade later, she drafted her first business plan. She initially planned to expand on her other part-time job in a local herb store and open a teahouse.
“I would sell culinary spices and medicinal herbs and I’d have my own line of body products, soaps and lotions,” Parr says, “But when push came to shove, I realized what I really knew was the bar business.”
Parr took a year off, looking at spaces and decompressing from life behind the bar. Work leaked back into her life with a one-day-a-week job at YJ’s. In 1999, she saw that the bar at 1727 McGee was for sale. Four days later, she was the new owner.
The Pub had been run by two working men, Jim and Joe, who understood for 33 years what other working men wanted: cold beer and an empty seat. A trio of owners had followed Jim and Joe but none had been able to last longer than a year in the space.
“I was pretty fearless. I just didn’t listen to other people, except my grandmother. She was very, very helpful. She passed away a few years ago, but I used to call her and tell her the lunch specials every day,” Parr says.
She wanted to create a comfortable atmosphere, one that brought together artists, musicians and eaters. In 2001, she changed the name to the Brick because she thought it called to mind a place that was “solid and urban.” Over the past decade, the Brick has become an eclectic enclave, as witnessed by the growing collection of ephemera behind the bar: her grandparents’ Jim Beam steins from the year the Chiefs last won the Super Bowl, a picture of the bar’s 2008 undefeated softball team (“We didn’t play that year,” Parr explains), Mardi Gras beads, skulls of varying degrees of menace, and a black-and-white photo of Joe and Jim. The display is ever-changing as Parr’s collection grows on the wall opposite the rotating gallery of local artists’ paintings.
“It’s happening around us, too. Our neighborhood is changing. We have a lot of lighter fare, and that’s because we have a different neighborhood with different food needs,” Parr says.
To that end, she has recently played around with mock chicken salad and lettuce wraps — a long way from the the Pubby burger, the last remaining item from the Pub’s menu (Parr estimates that she has cooked thousands) made with blue cheese and an onion ring.
“I just hope that we can continue to get better. I want to be the taste and the sound and the art of Kansas City,” Parr says.
And maybe one of the sights to see, as well.