"After September 11, the business just went to the dogs," says owner Jim Eddy. "It dropped 30 percent." Eddy says he accepted an offer from "a regional restaurant outfit" to buy the space. "I can't tell you which one yet, because we're just closing the deal," Eddy says. "It broke my heart. We loved the restaurant, but we couldn't keep it going in a recession that might last for months. The weekends were solid, but the weeknight business was way off."
At the same time, Eddy and his family's catering business was booming. And their local Popeye's Chicken franchises (they just opened a new one at I-35 and Chouteau Trafficway) were exceeding sales projections. "We're taking over three spaces in the Corporate Woods Shopping Center, where Baskin Robbins used to be. We'll put a brand-new Popeye's in there, both carry-out and eat-in."
Maybe it's for patriotic reasons, but business has never been better for that all-American restaurant chain Bob Evans, which is putting the finishing touches on its newest Kansas City restaurant -- the eighth in the metro -- scheduled to open on January 21 in Lee's Summit. The restaurant chain, which started as a 12-stool, 24-hour diner in 1948, prefers opening its family-style restaurants in the suburbs; thus Kansas City's locations include Independence, Overland Park, Olathe, Liberty and North Kansas City.
"We typically don't go into the inner city," says the company's media-relations director, Mandy Jordan. "That's just not our demographics."
A recent visit to the Overland Park restaurant proved that the place is a mecca for young families, who can get full dinners for as little as $7 a person and sassy service straight out of a sitcom. Our waitress, for example, wore two name badges on her uniform. One had her real name, the other her nickname, "Cloud."
"That's because some people think I'm an airhead," she giggled. "More coffee, hon?"
One spot that is opening in the inner city -- demographics be damned -- is Webster's Restaurant, on the second level of the 116-year-old Webster School at 16th and Wyandotte, the newest project of local philanthropist Shirley Bush Helzberg. She is moving the staff and the antique business from the old Crestwood Galleries (formerly located at 55th and Brookside Boulevard, where Bloomsday Books and Aixois now reside) to the renovated historic space, which will soon include the reconstruction of the old school's long-missing bell tower.
Tim Johnson, the chef at the café in the Crestwood Galleries, will oversee the new 44-seat dining room and 38-seat bar -- all nonsmoking, by the way. He says the menu will feature "ethnic techniques and Midwest attitude."
"The room will be really beautiful," Johnson adds. "A real showplace."