There can be some unintentionally awkward moments, such as when a trim, youthful blonde waiting for her carry-out order had to respond to the call for football star Troy Aikman. Most customers aren't offered a choice of celebrities from among 320 Hollywood and professional sports stars programmed into the restaurant's computer. But being pushy, I demanded to be Desi when I ordered my chicken-salad sandwich. The counter girl looked stunned. "Do we even have him on here?" she asked.
This lunch-and-dinner restaurant is definitely a youth-oriented environment: a cross between a Subway sandwich shop and Mel's Diner from Happy Days. Every inch of wall space is papered with album covers, movie posters (of mostly recent vintage) and celebrity photographs. The most popular celebrity name on the computer, says co-owner Mike McNicoll, is teen icon Britney Spears.
But for a minute (or less), I was Desi Arnaz, even if the computer-printed sales receipt misspelled his name Dezi. None of the jaded customers looked up when Desi's name was called out, but heads certainly turned when co-owner Jay Olson --who, with business partner McNicoll, brought the Back Yard Burgers franchise to Johnson County twelve years ago -- walked through the dining room. Tan, clean-cut Olson looks like a celebrity himself: a young Frankie Avalon.
Olson and McNicoll sold their five Back Yard Burgers locations last year. After McNicoll "got bored playing golf," they came up with the new concept, which serves a variety of hot and cold sandwiches, including the Star of the Show, a Philly cheese-steak sandwich made with USDA choice sirloin and a blend of Swiss and American cheeses.
"We heard that the most famous cheese-steak place in Philadelphia uses Cheez Whiz," says McNicoll. "But when we were testing cheese-steak sandwich recipes, we thought the Cheez Whiz version tasted just nasty. Our version is much, much better."
The restaurant serves sandwiches, salads and desserts Monday through Saturday from 11 a.m. to 9 p.m. and until 7 p.m. on Sundays. But don't ask to be Buddy Rogers. The late silent-film star and bandleader from Olathe is not in the café's computer.
"If he's not," McNicoll says, "he should be."