Vivilore is a magical place where food, art, antiques and home decor intertwine. The building’s ivy-covered brick front in a historic Independence neighborhood makes a grand first impression, while its lush rear courtyard garden concludes the tour with a breathtaking bang.
Brother and sister Whit Ross and Cindy Foster run it all: shop, restaurant, art gallery, event space and garden. Open 11 a.m.-9 p.m. Tuesday-Saturday at 10815 E. Winner Road. We talked with Cindy about the business.
Q. What was in this beautiful building before you bought it in 2010?
A. The original house was built in 1949 by interior design firm Sermon-Anderson. Sermon’s dad was the mayor of Independence for 20-plus years. The first floor was built in 1952 onto the front of the old house and the second floor in 1958. When we bought it, we cut a hole in the wall so it has this stairway between the old and the new. This building is magic, even without anything in it. There’s something about it everyone feels when they walk through. And this street is special, too. Englewood is a designated arts district, with music, art gallery openings and other artists showing on the sidewalk on Third Fridays.
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Q. How did you come to own the place?
A. Whit and I grew up in this area and went to Van Horn High School down the street. We used to come here when we were kids. We tried to buy it 10 years before it was on the market and that didn’t work, but one day I happened to drive by and saw a for-sale sign and we tried again. The building was in disrepair, but we still thought we could open a restaurant in six months. Here’s what was ready in six months: the garden. It took us two years to open because we had to do all the un-fun stuff like all new electrical, A/C and sprinklers.
Q. What backgrounds do you have for this type of establishment?
A. I was a pilot for 23 years at the downtown airport, then I did demolition and sold industrial equipment. My brother calls me a scraper. Whit did health care cooking and catering for 30 years, and he has natural artistic talent for placing things. This is probably the hardest thing we’ve ever done. People have big expectations when they come here. We work hard and long hours. We’ve spent our life savings on this. We want everyone to leave happy.
Q. Where does the name Vivilore come from?
A. My friend and I found this book in an antique store 20 years ago called “Vivilore: Pathway to Mental and Physical Perfection,” by Mary Ries Melendy. She was an M.D. in 1904, which was unusual at that time, and whatever page you open up to is just a hoot. The book’s name is the first time I’d heard the word, but that wasn’t necessarily why we named it that. I like the name because in Latin, viva means life and lore means story — life story.
Q. What type of items do you sell in the shop?
A. We try to carry local things like Pickwick candles and a lot of art. We have new product mixed in with antiques that we find at estate sales and auctions. Our friends travel to Europe and bring back containers of amazing things for us. And we go to market — Dallas, Atlanta and, this year, Vegas — to bring back the latest.
Q. What’s on the restaurant menu?
A. Modern American cuisine. We do everything from rib-eyes to wild Pacific salmon to burgers. We can accommodate vegetarians and gluten-free diets. Everything is fresh. We get a lot of produce from local farms, and we grow some of our herbs in the garden. Our lunch menu is mostly sandwiches, like a lobster roll, BLT and catfish po’boy. I’d be 500 pounds if I didn’t work 15-hour days, with the smell of fresh bread all day and Poppy’s homemade ice cream at the end of the night.
Q. As someone new to the restaurant business, what has surprised you most?
A. It’s like hosting Thanksgiving at your house every day. It’s a battle zone in the kitchen. Before this, Whit was doing catering, where everyone gets the same thing. He could feed 500 people himself. Here, 80 people are getting different things that need to be cooked at different temperatures. That hasn’t been an easy transition.
Q. Are you booked every night?
A.We are full for lunch every day, and we’re almost booked for dinner through December. We can seat 60 inside and 60 outside. We have a lot more seating than we can take reservations for. We try to seat 60-80 at once so that if it rains, we can move everyone inside.
Q. You rent out the space for private events?
A. We will host baby showers and bridal receptions — any small gathering, in the courtyard or upstairs in the gallery.
Q. And you host your own special events?
A. We do a themed five-course dinner; the one on Oct. 20 is called Murder on Pleasant Street and Colonial Swope will be here. We also do teas — ladies really love our teas. They’re traditional to a T. The only thing that is not traditional is the time of day we do them: 11:30 a.m. We try to do four a year, with porcelain tea pots and cups, and demitasse spoons. In June, we did one to celebrate Queen Elizabeth’s 90th birthday. The next one we do will be our winter tea on the last Saturday in January. I love history, so we’ll probably honor someone from the Revolutionary War, like Martha Washington.
Q. Cindy, what’s your favorite part of what you do?
A. I love going to market, but on a daily basis, I love the people. When you’re here 15 hours a day talking, you meet a lot of people. In these last four years, I feel I have made a whole new group of friends.
Q. Whit, what about you?
A. Working in the garden is my favorite, but it’s all the same. When I get sick of that, I go cook. When I get tired of that, I go decorate. I have no trouble sleeping at night.