At The Drive-In: Paul’s menu is to fry for

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Paul’s Drive In. // Photo by Zach Bauman

Have you ever had a burger so good you would request it as your last meal on earth? In the year and a half that Scott Shepherd has co-owned Paul’s Drive-In, he says four individuals in hospice care have come into the restaurant for their final meals. 

That’s how good the food is and how important the place itself is to the collective memory of south KC residents.

Throughout its 63-year history, the longest Paul’s has ever closed its doors to the KC community was for 54 days in 1995, following a fire. At the time, Paul’s was owned by Bob and Kathy Helton, and the pair worked fast with a team of contractors to finish repairs and reopen. Otherwise, Paul’s has proudly kept its doors open for longer than many of its patrons and employees have been alive.

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Paul’s counter and menu. // Photo by Amanda Hadlock

Though the menu and family feel of the restaurant has remained the same over six decades, the methods of operation and the owners have changed over time. When Shepherd became owner in September 2021, and co-owner Amanda Fulbright joined the team in October 2022, they set out to modernize the restaurant while still maintaining its longstanding history, which is so important to those in the neighborhood who have been buying burgers at Paul’s for decades.

“When we came in, they were still doing hand tickets and running them across the restaurant to put it back in the kitchen,” Shepherd says. “Introducing the POS system has helped us not get as many steps in and increase order accuracy.”

Paul’s started out as a drive-in restaurant, and its initial specialty was pizza. The pizza, however, never gained popularity, so the restaurant refocused on burgers and shakes—or “cyclones,” as they’re called if you get a special topping such as candy bars, cookies, or fruit mixed in. Today, the drive-in has been converted into a diner, so people can enjoy their meals at indoor tables and even play a game or two of Ms. Pacman or Galaga in the lobby. And, of course, there is a drive-thru if you prefer your meal to go. Shepherd says they plan to install an outdoor picnic-style seating area for summertime.

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Paul’s famous sign. // Photo by Zach Bauman

Despite the restaurant’s strong history and positive reputation in the neighborhood, Paul’s still struggled during the pandemic, like many locally-owned businesses. Small businesses in the food service industry face unique challenges. 

“It’s been rough with COVID,” says Shepherd. “There’s been a lot of changing around in this industry because there’s a shortage of workers. When COVID hit, they closed the lobby, and they closed on Sundays. So, we’re just trying to build the restaurant back up to full staff and full power.”

COVID also caused some surprising supply issues, according to Shepherd.

“It’s always the crazy stuff that COVID made us short on. Ketchup packets, salt packets, and paper cups were almost impossible to get,” Shepherd says. Paul’s concretes were iconically served in paper cups for years, but this practice had to change in the face of pandemic supply issues. 

Thanks to Paul’s many devoted regulars, though, the diner was able to bounce back post-pandemic. The restaurant’s regulars are important to the owners and employees, as is the entire South KC community. Shepherd says the restaurant recently started the Ruskin Eagles Art Wall in their entryway, where students from the local high school can have their artwork displayed. Co-owner Amanda Fulbright says the team at Paul’s is looking for more ways to reach out and service the community.

“We partnered in December with our Community Assistance Council and did a gift drive. We were able to get probably $500 or $600 worth of donated gifts specifically for the tweens and teenagers because they forever get left out. And we’re going to continue partnering with them and doing things like warm clothing drives,” Fulbright says.

The owners understand that some of the customers have been eating at Paul’s since their childhoods, and they want to keep providing that experience that Kansas Citians have loved for decades while simultaneously modernizing the facilities and processes. 

“We want to keep the bones, but we want to refresh it for a new generation,” says Shepherd. 

Paul’s Drive In is located at 10424 Blue Ridge Blvd., Kansas City, MO 64134.

Categories: Food & Drink