A Sprawling Metropolis

Like any aggressive restaurant chain, California-based Mimi’s Café (see review) is planning to conquer Kansas City — one suburb at a time. The first Mimi’s debuted a month ago at Oak Park Mall; the second is scheduled to open even farther south in Johnson County, at 135th and Antioch, in January. Next year will see Mimi’s openings in Independence and in Kansas City North, says Zachary H. Hill, general manager of the Oak Park Mimi’s.

And what about a Midtown location? “Not yet,” Hill says, “but there’s always that possibility.”

My translation: No way. National chains never seem interested in Kansas City’s urban core unless it’s a location on the Plaza. Outside chains now rule that roost, which once was dominated by the locally based Gilbert/Robinson operation. Since the Gilbert/Robinson empire was split up and sold off, its once potent Plaza presence has been reduced to a shadow of its former self. Annie’s Santa Fe is closed, the Bristol has moved to the suburbs and the flagship Houlihan’s is owned by Houlihan’s Restaurant Inc., which is under Chapter 11 reorganization.

Interestingly, Mimi’s Café reminds me a great deal of the old Houlihan’s restaurants during their glory days, in the late 1970s and early 1980s. Mimi’s menu boasts a lot of the same dishes Houlihan’s served in 1976: French onion soup, omelets and quiche. The new Houlihan’s menu also offers onion soup and quiche. But Houlihan’s no longer has Zachary H. Hill, who left a management position with the local chain and jumped ship to join the Mimi’s team.

One Midtown restaurateur who thought he was jumping ship is making a fresh cruise into today’s choppy economy. David Rabinowitz, who closed his thirteen-year-old Metropolis earlier this year, is planning to reopen the restaurant in November.

Former partner Steve Chick is out of the picture, and Rabinowitz is overseeing the restaurant’s expansion solo. He’s moving its entrance to a former beauty shop east of the Metropolis space and creating a “real” bar (the old restaurant didn’t really have one) with stools and bar tables. The new menu will include some tried-and-true favorites from the old place (like the Vietnamese Chicken Salad), but Rabinowitz won’t reveal more than that. “I haven’t hired a chef yet,” he says.

Things aren’t exactly moving swimmingly. Rabinowitz has been forced to economize and has scaled back some of his architect’s interior plans. Also, the city is insisting he find eight new parking places because he’s increasing the restaurant’s seating capacity from 46 to 54. “At this point,” he says, “I just want to get it open.”

Rabinowitz is optimistic but wary about starting over. “This has been a tough year for restaurants, with the Stolen Grill, Café Allegro and the Fairway Grill all closing. Still, I’m already getting a lot of calls asking me when I’m opening. That’s a good sign.”

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