The Heriford Grill is a survivor.

Burger Kings 

The Heriford Grill is a survivor.

Remembering the late Loula Long Combs, legendary "Queen of the American Royal" (see Café) is one way to celebrate the yearly horse-and-livestock show. Going to the annual American Royal Barbecue, October 5 and 6 at the American Royal Center, is another. A variety of nonprofit organizations (including the American Royal, the Dream Factory and Harvesters) benefits from the two-day bash, which includes cooking contests and a barbecue expo.

Another food-related fundraiser is scheduled for this weekend: "A Celebration of Life, A Benefit for the Families of the Food Workers of the World Trade Center" on Sunday, October 7, from 4 to 7 p.m. A new fund, called Windows of Hope, has been established for employees of the World Trade Center's restaurants (including the fabled Windows on the World) who lost their jobs and for family members of employees who lost their lives in the September 11 attack. Members of the local restaurant community, including Dave Wagner of Lidia's, Mary Simpson of the Capitol Grille, food writer Lou Jane Temple and wine expert Roni Jaco, are organizing the party at Lidia's Attic, the upstairs, private dining room at Lidia's (101 West 22nd St). A number of local restaurants and food vendors are donating things to eat and drink for the event, which is geared toward the public as well as Kansas City's restaurant and nightclub workers. Your $25 donation goes to a good cause; for more information, call 816-221-3722.

And survival now appears to be guaranteed for one venerable Kansas City institution. The 50-year-old Heriford Grill, one of the few 24-hour diners left on Kansas City's Eastside, was having a midlife crisis: Owners Bill and Lois Heriford wanted to sell their lovable Northeast joint, but no one was coming forward. The area had changed dramatically -- the neighborhood bar across the street began advertising its "showgirls" -- and running a 24-hour restaurant as popular as the Heriford is a lot of work.

But longtime customer Abdullah Al-Rubaie, owner of Kansas City's two Roses Express shops, decided he had to save the Heriford. Strongly influenced by his wife, Angela -- who grew up in the neighborhood surrounding the diner -- he purchased the freestanding restaurant last month.

If the name sounds familiar, it's because Abdullah is the cousin of the more famous restaurateur Cassim Al-Rubaie, who had a four-star namesake restaurant in Kansas City in the 1980s. "He lives in Springfield now," says Abdullah. "I owned a bar-restaurant myself in the 1970s, but I never really liked that business."

Then why take on the Heriford Grill?

"I'm one of the customers who ate there two or three times a week," he says. "It's a historic place! President Harry Truman ate there. There's a lot of love from the people who come in there."

Al-Rubaie wants to improve the diner, but not too much. "Too much change scares people," he says. "People in the Northeast are very sentimental about this place. There are lots of stories about it. One man told me that he remembered the day Truman came in for lunch and saw the old sign that used to say '8 Hamburgers for $1.' He told the cook, 'If I was rich, I'd buy eight hamburgers right now!'"

Prices have gone up in the last five decades, but you still don't have to be rich to get a small bag of burgers at the Heriford Grill -- it's now $4.20.

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