Papa Keno’s returns to Westport next month

Seven years after the Papa Keno’s pizzeria closed at  415 Westport Road, a duo of new owners — David Hawley and Tyler Parker — is ready to bring the popular shop back to the same location. Hawley, who also owns the Papa Keno’s in Lawrence, says the projected opening date for the Westport restaurant is September 1.

Hawley and two other business partners — David Bennett and Brandon Graham — bought the Papa Keno’s brand from founder Greg Keenan in 2012. Hawley tells The Pitch that at one time there were Papa Keno’s in Los Angeles, Arizona and Colorado. Today there are only Lawrence and the yet-unopened Westport location. The Papa Keno’s in Overland Park was purchased from Hawley and his associates by chef Philippe Lechevin last year.

“It’s very successful,” Hawley says of the Overland Park store, at 7901 Santa Fe Drive. “Phillipe is installing a second oven just to keep up with the demand.”

The Westport Papa Keno’s was replaced, after closing in 2008, by a short-lived outpost of the Art of Pizza. It was later transformed into the Boot, an Italian trattoria created by Westport Cafe & Bar owners Aaron Confessori and Rich Wiles. The Boot lasted 14 months, and the space has been sitting empty for two years.

“We’re going to build the brand up again so we can franchise the concept,” Hawley says.

While Hawley and co-owner (and general manager) Parker wait on the liquor license — the new Papa Keno’s will serve wine and beer — they’ve competed the interior work on the former Boot space. “We’ve put in a deck oven and taken out the wall that separated the kitchen from the dining room,” Hawley says, “to showcase the process of making our hand-tossed pizza. And we’ve put up televisions.” The space also has kept the reclaimed wood and subway tiles from the Boot. A new neon sign will be installed next week.

Westport hasn’t been exactly pizza-free in the absence of a Papa Keno’s: Joe’s Pizza, at 4058 Pennsylvania, has been a late-night staple for years, and a franchise of the fast-casual Pie Five chain opened at 534 Westport Road last year.

Hawley says his main goal is to revive the Papa Keno’s brand.

“It was a really excellent product back in the 1990s,” he says. “When I moved to Lawrence in 2003, it just wasn’t the same. But we’re getting back to our roots, creating true classic New York-style pizza, not heavy on the sauce, a thin hand-tossed crust. This is the way they’ve been making pizza in New York for the last 100 years.”

The Westport Papa Keno’s will be open late: “We’ll be serving until midnight on the weeknights,” Hawley says. “And until 3 a.m. on Friday and Saturday.”

Categories: Dining, Food & Drink