One day Bess Truman took her bridge club to Stephenson’s Old Apple Farm Restaurant.
They ordered some punch with their lunch.
But the former first lady had a request.
"She said: ‘Let’s have it with a little authority, ’ " said Wanda Stephenson of Independence, wife of Loyd Stephenson, who founded the restaurant with his twin brother, Les.
So the management of Stephenson’s, the eastern Jackson County landmark that shut down this week after 60 years, complied. The age-appropriate drink soon was added to the menu, Wanda said, under the name "wine punch."
"It was a good seller, " she said.
But that was decades ago. This week, a variety of factors combined to persuade family members to shut the restaurant, said Steve Stephenson, son of Wanda and a Stephenson’s restaurant veteran. The family was facing significant equipment upgrade costs, he said. Both founders are in their late 80s.
Finally, an unpaid utility bill prompted an interruption of electric service, he added. The restaurant at the southeast corner of U.S. 40 and Lee’s Summit Road remains for sale, as it has been since 2005, but it will no longer operate.
Maybe the closing of Stephenson’s represents nothing more than time’s usual toll, Wanda said.
"All things come to a halt when you are 87 years old, " she said. Loyd suffered a stroke about 10 years ago, she said. Les lives in Florida.
But there were other factors, Steve said.
First, Stephenson’s was operating in a market vastly different from that of 1946, when Loyd and Les established a one-roof cafe. The restaurant that grew there served a sometimes-rural market that much appreciated its presence. When the Stephenson brothers introduced a new menu item, the patrons responded.
That happened when the brothers visited pre-Castro Cuba and discovered frozen daiquiris, Steve said.
"They got a blender and figured out how to do that, " he said. "People would drive here from all over to get the Stephenson’s frozen daiquiris.
"Now it’s only one of 1,000 daiquiris."
Then there’s the plight of independent restaurants, many of which are struggling, said Brina Bruno, western regional director of the Missouri Restaurant Association.
"It’s hard for some of them to compete with the big chains, " she said.
"We had Nichols Lunch close after 85 years, and now Stephenson’s, " she said, referring to the venerable Southwest Trafficway eatery that shut down in September.
The land that Stephenson’s sits upon may be attractive to younger entrepreneurs. The vast Bass Pro Shops complex is scheduled to open this fall northeast of the Stephenson’s building on U.S. 40.
The owners are open to offers that would maintain the restaurant with its unique recipes, Steve said.
But few parties have considered continuing the restaurant, said Stan Link, secretary of the Stephenson’s restaurant board and the real estate agent representing the family.
"About 75 percent of those interested are interested in the property because of its location and would probably take the building down, " Link said.
The Stephenson’s Fruit Market and its parking lot are not part of the restaurant real estate listing. The fruit market is a separate business and will reopen in mid-June.
Now, Wanda said, family members probably will split up the photographs covering the lounge wall, depicting athletes and celebrities who visited.
The building, like the menu, evolved over the decades.
"A lot of people saw it grow from 30 seats to 90 seats to 125 seats to 350 seats, " Steve said.
Menu items were added in similar fashion, such as the daiquiris and the green-rice casserole. The Stephenson brothers first encountered the casserole in a small restaurant in Gallatin, Mo., Steve said.
They then made it their own, he added.
Patrons, meanwhile, established their own Stephenson’s traditions.
Those who showed up Wednesday night to observe Valentine’s Day but found a locked door with a sign reading "Power Interruption" lingered in the parking lot, remembering the chicken and apple fritters they associated with the restaurant.
"It was unique, " said Anthony DeLuca of Independence, who had arrived to celebrate with his wife, Freeda. "We had come here for our first anniversary in 1952 and then just kept coming back."
Gary and Suzanne Hatten of Bethany, Mo., dressed in matching red shirts, met Verlyn and Barbara Brooks from Raymore. Friends from high school, the couples had met at Stephenson’s for special occasions going back decades.
"I guess we need to talk about where we need to go now, " Gary said.
The closing was hard on the Stephenson family, as well.
"I spent half the day crying, " Wanda said. "We will always be grateful to all the people who helped us along the way."