JJ’s owner reflects on the past and the future

02/20/2013 2:16 PM

05/16/2014 9:13 PM

“I’m Jimmy Frantze and that’s my building.”

It’s nearing 1 a.m. and the restaurant and bar that Frantze has poured his life into for 28 years is smoldering rubble a block away. He is pleading with two Kansas City police officers, asking for permission to go beyond the yellow tape to get closer to JJ’s.

They politely tell him no.

He cusses, but not in anger, or at anyone. It’s grief.

JJ’s is gone and one of his staff is still missing. Frantze is focused, just as he has been since hearing the news that the restaurant exploded while he was in Oklahoma on other business.

He drove his white pickup back to Kansas City, arriving shortly before midnight.

Over and over, he ticks off the staffers’ names, servers and bartenders and their injuries, accounting for everyone. Except for one.

Anyone who works in a well-established destination like JJ’s will understand that staff becomes family.

So the JJ’s family gathered in the early hours Wednesday morning in the back room at Harry’s Bar and Tables in Westport.

Hugs, tears, drinks and dread. Some had been to the hospitals and recounted what the injured had told them.

An explosion struck from the side alley to the east of the building. Staff was gathered near the bar, putting items away, readying to leave the building.

Then, in one gust, the wall that separates the dining room from the bar area blew in on them. The ceiling caved down. People pulled themselves from underneath the debris and grabbed the nearest hand.

The last out, a male bartender, told others he heard a woman crying out for help. There was no chance of getting back into the building.

At Harry’s nearing 2 a.m., no one wanted to confirm to Frantze their fears, that a family member is lost. They move to a corner to cry silently.

As the night wears on, Frantze’s mind darts to bits of the restaurant, images seared from years of spending most of his days and nights there.

The memorabilia lining a back hallway, the photos, the awards, the tremendous stock of thousands of wine bottles, many rare.

And the saber. The metal might have made it through the blaze, Frantze muses. It was in his office.

Even more than the extensive wine collection, the flamboyance that is part of Frantze’s personality and the ambiance of JJ’s is captured by that saber. He used it to slice off the glass top of champagne bottles, but only on special occasions.

The inevitable questions start to be asked. Rebuild? Retire?

Frantze will repeat the thought that came to him hours earlier. When he stood with the police officers, gingerly stepping around the frozen river of water created by the fire hoses.

“Maybe it’s a new beginning.”

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