Joe Walker was a struggling insurance agent back in 1969, trying to support his wife and three young daughters.
By JOYCE SMITH
The Kansas City Star
He wanted a more stable future so he got a $2,000 loan to go into the pizza business.
My brother-in-law and sister got into the pizza business first, then I got into it when he started eating steak and I was still eating hamburger, Joe Walker said. So I got into the pizza business here in Shawnee.
With the high failure rate of restaurants, some might have questioned Walkers financial plan but his pizza place prospered and oh so slowly the family business expanded. The third Old Shawnee Pizza & Italian Kitchen recently opened at 19617 W. 101st St., Lenexa, off Woodland Road.
A lot of high-end restaurants are struggling but pizza is just cheap. Sometimes you can get a pizza and it stretches over so you have a meal the next day, said William Walker, vice president and Joes son. My dad said if he would open a restaurant today he would have a kitchen in the middle and a pizza place on one side, a Mexican restaurant on the other.
William Walker, 38, started working at the restaurant when he was about 9 years old and officially went on the payroll as a teenager washing dishes and prepping the salads. He was a Marine for four years to spread his wings a bit but came back to the family business, this time learning the management of the operation.
His sister, Lisa Walker, is secretary and treasurer of the company. The two other sisters live out of state.
The menu includes specialty pizzas like Capra Rustico (with goat cheese crumbles artichoke hearts, and sliced prosciutto), the Bavarian (with sausage and sauerkraut), the Thai Pie (with peanut sauce and chicken) and the Smokehouse (with barbecue sauce, chicken, pineapple, and bacon). The restaurants also sell appetizers, sandwiches, pastas, and entrée salads, along with Dollar Savers, like the Family Feast with a one topping pizza, four small salads, an order of bread sticks and soda for a family of four for $31.
The Walker family also has a location in Kansas City, Kan.
Two years ago the family began selling their pizza sauce and salad dressing, mostly in grocery stores in Wyandotte and Johnson counties, but also stores in Belton and Raymore.
Joe Walker oversees the wholesale bottle business creamy green garlic salad dressing and the classic red pizza sauce.
The Shawnee location which moved and expanded in 1985 - still has its classic mid-1980s décor but a lower level was recently converted to a cozy bar with a lodge like feel that includes deer antlers and a wood burning fireplace. A table or two are moved aside for occasional live music nights. The Shawnee location also has an upstairs banquet room seating 50 people.
The new Lenexa location which was previously a pizza place has been remodeled with walls covered with boards from an old Wyoming snow fence and stacked stone pieces, along with wood tile floor, for a contemporary rustic touch. Evening and weekend business has already been higher than expected, the Walkers said.
I enjoy the business. Ive done it for 40 some years and I still come in most every day but I come in when I want to and go off when I want to, said Joe Walker, 75. But does it beat selling insurance?
It did for me. I knew some people who did well in insurance maybe born into it or got into estate planning and they had more on the stick.
• Potbelly has submitted plans to open a restaurant at College Boulevard and Glenwood Avenue in Overland Park. Potbelly said the only confirmed location for the area is one scheduled to open on the Country Club Plaza. Potbelly specializes in toasted sandwiches, hand-dipped shakes and made-to-order salads.
• Jose Peppers Border Grill & Cantina has applied for a building permit for the former Outback Steakhouse building at 6870 Johnson Drive, Mission, according to Missions planning department. Officials with Jose Peppers couldnt be reached for comment.
• Sammys Pizza & Pub has closed in a 4,500-square-foot space in the Village of Seville, 13164 State Line Road, Leawood, the second pizza place to close in the spot. The former owner couldnt be reached for comment.
Zepis Pizza & Pub also had operated in the space. Another restaurant is in discussions to take that location and the space next door but no lease has been signed yet.
To reach Joyce Smith, call 816-234-4692 or send email to firstname.lastname@example.org. Follow her on Facebook and Twitter at JoyceKC.