"We found my father's notebook with lots of old recipes and menus from the old days," says the restaurant's co-owner and manager, Leonard Mirabile, who is almost exactly seven months younger than his father's namesake restaurant and started working in the kitchen as soon as he was old enough to slice bread. His three siblings followed his lead, bussing tables and washing dishes.
Jasper's started out as a neighborhood Italian joint, serving spaghetti and meatballs, mostaccioli, ravioli, fried chicken, charcoal-broiled steak and pizza. A 1957 menu from Jasper's lists those dishes, and the prices seem positively incredible today: $2 for a lobster tail, $1.75 for filet mignon.
In 1966, the elder Jasper bought the whole corner where his restaurant sat at 75th Street and Wornall Road and turned his restaurant into an elegant fine dining room, complete with tuxedo-clad waiters, linen-draped tables, sophisticated dishes prepared tableside and a dress code for customers.
The place was a celebrity hangout until the mid-1990s, when Mirabile sold the property and made plans to open a less fancy, more accessible Italian bistro in another part of town. "We looked at 119th Street in Johnson County," Leonard says. "But we decided to buy the shopping center at Watts Mill instead."
The new location opened in 1998, slightly downscaled in style (there are neither tablecloths nor a dress code), but the dishes are still inventive and delicious. And as always, there's still a Mirabile kid working in the place. Jasper Mirabile III, Leonard's 24-year-old son, is the latest addition to the restaurant. He loves the place.
"You have to love it to do it, because it's the hardest work in the world," Leonard says.
For one day only, April 1, the restaurant will sell plates of pasta and sausage sandwiches for fifty cents each. The money will be donated to cancer research.
As for that $2 lobster tail? Only a memory, alas.