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The duo went from tending bar to running one in October 2006, when they opened the Drop. Ernesto and his wife, Jenifer (they met while she was working at the Granfalloon on the Plaza), together owned 51 percent of the business, and Crane had the rest. Josh Eans left 40 Sardines, where he'd been a line cook, to join the Drop; his wife, Abbey-Jo, became the pastry chef. With its carefully cultivated wine, beer and cocktail list and Eans' bruschetta menu, the Drop was an early success. And Peralta began thinking about what might be next.
"The Drop was a small space, and while it was fun, I wasn't making the money I was used to making at the Capital Grille," says Peralta, 47.
Peralta visited a new development under construction in Leawood: Mission Farms. He envisioned a wine bar with small plates, and he picked out a name: Ombra. When financing didn't materialize, he shelved the project. But it wasn't long before he struck his next deal.
Tatsu's Café & Wine Bar, a French restaurant at 419 Westport Road, was on its last legs at the end of 2007. Owner Tatsu Arai had exhausted his second concept in three years, having started his five-year lease with a sandwich shop called KC Toaster's Sandwich Café. Peralta saw in the narrow, rectangular space a new beginning for a partnership that had begun to fray.
"Jenifer and Josh came to me and said they couldn't work with Eddie anymore," Peralta says.
"I was a hothead then," Crane concedes.
The articles of incorporation for the Circle Restaurant Group were filed on December 26, 2007. Jenifer Price (she took Peralta's name later), Crane and Eans signed the paperwork. Peralta's name is absent, a fact he attributes to his wife having put part of the new venture's financing on a credit card in her name. The Peraltas would own 50 percent of Blanc, with Eans and Crane each maintaining 25-percent ownership stakes. The restaurant opened on March 20, 2008. And whereas the Drop had been steady, Blanc was an instant hit.
"I'd walk out onto Westport Road and scream the name of somebody who was next on the list," says Beth Evans, a former server and assistant manager. "People would wait an hour or two to get a table."
Blanc heralded a wave of craft-beer bars and craft burgers, arriving in KC ahead of the national chains Five Guys and Smashburger (both of which have since opened KC outposts). It made a popular novelty of its house-made ketchup (Eans was vocal about his refusal to stock Heinz), and the fries arrived at tables in miniature metallic shopping carts (an idea that Peralta took from Delux, a burger shop in Phoenix).
The fast success allowed a swift adjustment: Three months after Blanc opened, Crane and Peralta agreed to trade the Peraltas' interest in the Drop for Crane's percentage of Blanc. The deal was finalized in December 2008. Around the same time, Brian Wilson began working at Blanc as one of its managers, helping prepare for the launch of a new restaurant in Leawood.
A month shy of the first anniversary in Westport, Blanc opened a second location, in Mission Farms. David McMullin, who had been managing the Westport operation, moved over to Leawood. He purchased a 10-percent ownership stake in the new space for $10,000. Eans was given approximately 25 percent. The remaining portion belonged to Jenifer and Ernesto Peralta.
In October 2009, Ernesto Peralta told The Kansas City Business Journal that he envisioned Blanc locations in Omaha, Des Moines and St. Louis. The business seemed on its way to being the next Smashburger or Five Guys.