Brian Darby this week told his Coach’s family of employees to go find other jobs — the reopening of the sports bar his father built is just too uncertain after last week’s flooding.
It’s a decision that wrenches Darby, a grieving son who took over the south Kansas City restaurant’s co-ownership not even three months ago when his father was found slain on the Indian Creek Trail.
“If my dad was still here, he’d be rebuilding this place no matter what,” Darby said heavily. “It would not be the best business decision, but he would be absolutely devastated, and he would make sure the employees have a home to go back to.”
A meeting Monday with insurance adjustors only confirmed what Darby already knew: Coach’s Bar & Grill was a total loss. There was nothing to be saved of the bar that existed for 35 years. It could take a year or more to rebuild or move.
He met that night with employees, some of whom have worked at Coach’s for nearly 30 years.
Go find other jobs, he had to tell them. And take care.
“We told them that they are like family to us and their loyalty to us through the years has been amazing,” said Darby, choking up recalling the Monday night meeting. “But this time, there’s so much uncertainty we told them not to wait on us.”
Not having his father during such a low point weighs on him.
“This is not how I imagined how the succession process would go,” Darby said. “I imagined my dad would be here for another 20 years guiding me through this — and he’s not.”
Mike Darby, 61, was reportedly walking his dogs when he was killed May 18. His homicide remains unsolved. Police have said there are “obvious similarities” among his slaying and three other unsolved homicides that have occurred along the Blue River Trail and the Indian Creek Trail.
It’s been a week since floodwaters swept through and destroyed the bar and grill as well as other businesses near 103rd Street and Wornall Road.
Brian Darby and his business partner, Chris Carle, had gone to the bar early that Thursday morning to check on possible flooding and to save paperwork.
Based on prior experience — the bar has flooded five times before — they knew that the bar would flood again, but they didn’t think it would be too bad.
Suddenly, the wall to the game room broke, and water came rushing in. The water then shot through a doorway into the main bar, flooding it.
Carle and Darby jumped on top of the bar. When the water covered the bar and started to move it, they climbed on top of an 8-foot-tall beer cooler.
When that started to float, they pulled down ceiling tiles, climbed into the ceiling and waited to be rescued.
“I wasn’t fearful that the water was going to get that high,” he said. “The fear was that the building was going to go, because we could hear the walls collapsing down in the shopping center.”
Firefighters rescued them by cutting a hole in the roof and pulling them through to safety.
The aftermath of flooding was almost like reliving the death of his father, Darby said.
Knowing that he might be handling this differently than his father would have is tearing him apart. He’s getting through it with support from his sisters and friends. The community’s response has helped.
“We’ve had regular customers show up with gloves and bleach,” he said. “Everybody is willing to help out.”
Joe Benskin, who owns the Levee bar in Kansas City, started a GoFundMe page to help them rebuild.
If there are no objections, Darby said, he would rather apply those funds to his dad’s reward fund.
Darby said he can’t help but feel he’s betraying people a little if he’s unable to rebuild.
“We’ve been around so long and we know so many families and we’ve been blessed by the community,” Darby said. “I’m very worried. I don’t want to lose touch with the community, especially after everything that happened to my dad and how much they have helped out. We’re part of south Kansas City.”
The business has deep emotional value to him and his family.
“When my dad opened it, on the Kid’s Menu the burger was called a ‘Brian Burger,’ ” Darby said. “There are former employees who come by to visit me, and they like to remind me that they changed my diapers.”
The restaurant is where he and his sisters spent a lot of time growing up. Their father’s memories revolve around Coach’s, he said.
Because his dad was so much a big part of Coach’s, Darby had hoped that as people drove by the bar’s sign, they would talk about how his killer had not been found.
“If I can’t get this to make it, that’s just one last memory or one last thought people have of my dad,” Darby said.
“It’s not just a sports bar for me. It’s my dad’s legacy.”