For 36 years, EBT restaurant was a place to celebrate milestones. It was the “fancy” stop before prom. Couples got engaged there, had their rehearsal dinner in the restaurant and came back for anniversaries.
This week, Ed Holland, the south Kansas City restaurant’s former longtime manager, said it’s time to say goodbye. The restaurant plans to shut down on New Year’s Eve.
“It’s been a great run. Unfortunately, a lot of the fine dining restaurants across the country are closing,” Holland said Wednesday. He plans to be in daily this month to oversee its final days. “Dining is not as formal as it used to be.”
EBT opened in the UMB bank building at the southeast corner of Interstate 435 and State Line Road in September 1979. Men were required to wear jackets for dinner (ties were preferred but not mandatory).
The name was in homage to the old Emery, Bird, Thayer department store, a Kansas City institution that closed in 1968. The department store’s building was demolished in 1972 to make way for a downtown parking lot, despite public outcry.
But two of the store’s elevator shafts and cages were salvaged and became beloved dining alcoves in the restaurant. Some Emery, Bird, Thayer columns and capstones were set in brickwork and became part of the EBT decor.
The department store had an impeccable image of respect and quality in the community that the restaurant hoped to carry on. Long-term store employees felt like family and formed a 25-year club.
EBT has carried on that tradition, with server Dave Aufdemberge, server and office manager Wesley Gill and hostess Kathy Knight all members of EBT’s “30-year club.”
Holland worked lunch and dinner six days a week from 1979 to 1994 until he became president of Myron Green Cafeterias, which in 2001 merged with Treat America Food Services, a Merriam-based vending and corporate food service management company. Treat America manages EBT.
Some early restaurant reviews were critical, lamenting the restaurant’s food quality and service, as well as its “high prices.” But EBT continued on by “recognizing and appreciating” its customers and offering good food and good service, Holland said.
Holland insisted on fresh linen tablecloths and would put one of his award-winning roses on each table during the season. (He has 150 rose bushes at the family home in Bucyrus, Kan.) He also would give customers a miniature rose to take with them.
He continued to work Friday and Saturday nights for 15 years, working the dining room like a politician and calling most of his regulars by name.
“People loved it. It just made them happy,” he said. “You don’t come here to eat, you come here to dine. It’s an experience. And when you have that kind of restaurant, you have to step it up. Not to pat myself on the back, but to have the same person here every lunch and dinner makes a huge, huge difference and advantage.”
Server Aufdemberge agrees: “This never, never, never would have gotten off the ground if Ed wasn’t general manager.”
The menu includes veal saltimbocca, roasted maple leaf duck breast and Chilean sea bass, with entree prices ranging from about $22 to $46 at dinner. But Holland said it is known for three things: its peppercorn steak, classic Caesar salad and bananas foster served tableside.
Holland and Aufdemberge can recite orders of longtime regulars, like one couple who had a standing reservation for 6 p.m. Fridays at table 18. The husband ordered two Coors Light beers (one that they would put on ice in a wine chiller) and the twin peppercorn filets in brandied peppercorn sauce. His wife would sip on one glass of white wine but change up her entree order.
Four women celebrated a Christmas birthday over lunch at EBT Wednesday, sitting in their usual spot in one of the elevators. Helen French of Independence remembered taking one of those elevators up to the dainty tea room in the department store, where women were always properly attired in hat, high heels and gloves.
Amy Sue Bliss of Shawnee said she has been coming to the restaurant for about 15 years, first when she worked in the building at UMB. But now that she works in Overland Park she still makes the trip.
When she learned about the closing Wednesday from Holland, she began making plans to say a goodbye over dinner later this month.
“I’m shocked. I’m still processing it,” she said. “It has such a fabulous history.”