The irony was that she had to begrudgingly accept a career in show business instead of her dream job as a waitress.
In a way, that's like the story of Hope Loehr, who has spent the past few years as the cheery house manager at the New Theatre Restaurant. She's returning to the barbecue joint where she started her career, Hayward's Pit Barbecue (11051 Antioch), this time as owner.
Loehr was in junior high when Hayward Spears hired her as a hostess. "I learned to do everything in the years I was there," she says. "I was cashier, waitress, bus girl, you name it."
Loehr says she loved her life at the theatre, but when Spears called to tell her he was interested in stepping away from his thirty-year-old restaurant (his children, he said, had little interest in continuing the business), she jumped on the opportunity. She's already hired a New Theatre coworker, former operations manager Tracey Gossage, to join her as a manager.
Loehr closed the restaurant for a couple of weeks to freshen the décor and to install a twelve-seat bar (with televisions) in a little-used private dining room. There, she'll offer a new appetizer menu that includes Pacific Island Ribs in a sweet tropical marinade as well as hot chicken wings and chocolate martinis.
Hayward's had been a straightforward barbecue affair, but Loehr has decided to add more salads, seafood and desserts. Alas, there won't be more show business. Loehr has no plans for the big electric organ that's been sitting in the dining room for two decades. At one time, an entertainer played on weekends.
"Entertainment? I'll have to think about that," Loehr says.
Elsewhere, the lobby of a former movie theater (and what for twenty years was the old Waldo Astoria Dinner Theater) is getting a third act now that young, French-born Karl Calini has finally opened Café Apanaire in the space at 7428 Washington Street.
The 1923 neighborhood film house lost its auditorium several years ago when the success of the nearby 75th Street Brewery forced the building's owners, Doug and Diane Alpert, to raze it and put in a parking lot.
But Diane says she had an "emotional attachment" to the lobby and facade, so they spared it from the bulldozers, and the structure enjoyed a brief life as Calini's combination antique shop and coffee bar.
When Calini decided to import French ovens to bake baguettes, rolls and pastries (he imports the dough, too), the Alperts suggested one of their suburban retail spaces in Leawood. But Calini loved the European feel of the theater building, and he artfully created a Parisian-style café (complete with Jose Campos murals, marble-topped tables and china espresso cups) that serves breakfasts and lunches. The place is packed every morning for fans of real French-style brioche, croissants and pain au chocolat.
"It's a landlord's dream," says Diane Alpert. A pastry addict's, too.