It was 1954 and the scrappy young Mirabile, who had started cooking in his mother's kitchen at age nine, began serving spaghetti and meatballs, pizza, steaks and homemade pies and cakes.
"His mother, Josephine, was a fabulous cook. She would come in and help make sauces when Jasper first opened," recalls Mirabile's widow -- also named Josephine. "I only worked one day at the restaurant. I was pregnant with our first son, and Jasper thought he saw a customer making goo-goo eyes at me and said, 'You go home.' And that was that."
In 1954, hundreds of restaurants were listed in the Kansas City directory. But only a handful of those have survived: Jasper's, The Golden Ox, The Savoy Grill, Bryant's Barbecue, Stroud's, Italian Gardens, Winstead's, Romanelli Grill and Heriford's Grill among them.
But whatever happened to Buy-a-Bite, The Chat and Chew, Herman's Clip Joint and Fido's Dog House? They vanished, like Kansas City's Playboy Club and Putsch's 210, relics of the city's more flamboyant past.
Jasper's, which just received its seventh DiRona (Distinguished Restaurants of North America) Award, has survived in grand fashion because unlike many of its contemporaries, the restaurant changed with the times. Twelve years -- and four sons -- after opening his spaghetti restaurant, Jasper Mirabile (who died in 1998) made a rather daring decision to turn his namesake eatery into Kansas City's first fancy Italian restaurant, complete with waiters in tuxedos, Caesar salads prepared tableside and swanky flambé dishes. There was even a dress code: jacket and tie for male customers, no exceptions.
The prices were high, but the place exuded a glamour and sophistication that was new to Kansas City. It was a hit, but three decades later, Mirabile had a different epiphany: "My dad knew the market for upscale dining was changing when the Ritz-Carlton closed its fine-dining restaurant on the top floor," says Leonard Mirabile, who runs Jasper's with his youngest brother, executive chef Jasper Jr.
Before Mirabile's death, he sat down with his sons and planned the third incarnation of Jasper's, featuring a more casual and less expensive dining room (but still serving cosmopolitan Italian fare) in a new location on 103rd Street. The new Jasper's combined, in a single space, what once had been three businesses: a deli, a casual trattoria and the fancy Jasper's.
Out went the dress code, the chafing dishes and the tuxedos. In came a new generation of customers.
"The first year," Leonard says, "we did five times the business."
There's still a Jasper cooking in the restaurant's kitchen, and 38-year-old Jasper Jr., who trained in Paris and Italy, became the first Kansas City chef invited to cook at New York's prestigious James Beard Foundation.
Pizza remains on the menu as well, and starting June 2, Jasper's will serve the same kind of pizza that Jasper Sr. created in 1954 -- at the only pizza concession at the new Kansas Speedway in Kansas City, Kansas.
"In a way, we're coming full circle," says Jasper Jr. "Dad started out selling pies, and when the new track opens, we'll be doing it again."