After stints at her own restaurant and working for others, spending her days cutting costs — How many steaks will we use tonight? How many scallops? — as well as unclogging toilets and troubleshooting computer glitches, Debbie Gold will now be able to just concentrate on what she loves to do the most.
“I really get to play with the food, the recipes and the menu, and work directly with the cooks,” says Gold, now the executive chef of The American restaurant.
She has returned to the iconic establishment for the third time, as the 40-year-old-plus fine-dining restaurant evolves into a pop-up space to attract “today’s diners.”
Officials introduced the new concept on May 3 and promised something “big and beautiful and awesome.” Gold was there, blending up a mix of wedding cake ice cream and Champagne to make thick, creamy concoctions she calls Tipsy Milkshakes.
The American was conceived in partnership with Warren Platner of the original Windows on the World in the World Trade Center, restaurateur Joe Baum and the legendary James Beard.
Platner took the glass-and-steel penthouse space, with a soaring 21-foot ceiling and sweeping views of the downtown skyline, and created a majestic but still intimate venue.
While the two-level space recently changed to a more muted palette — gray carpet, off-white walls — the dramatic, handcrafted and heart-shaped wooden beams still fan the ceiling and stretch to the floor in some places. The lattice-like look is said to be in homage to the lace on Hallmark’s Valentine’s cards. In 2014, OpenTable diners picked the American as one of the top 100 Most Romantic Restaurants in America.
The American opened on Valentine’s Day in 1974 and produced several James Beard award-winning chefs, including Gold and then-husband Michael Smith in 1999 for Best Chef Midwest, a first for Kansas City.
Crown Center shut down its flagship restaurant at the end of 2016 and started converting to the pop-up concept, adding new linens, crystal glassware and forged flatware.
Tom Johnson is back as managing director. He had served as managing director of Culinary Concepts Ltd., a subsidiary of Hallmark Cards Inc., from 1991 to 2001, overseeing 14 restaurant operations in the Crown Center complex. He will now oversee event operations and programming, including the American Concept Series, for The American. He hired Gold in 1994 and recruited her for the new pop-up concept.
Gold was previously corporate chef at Culinary Concepts. She and Smith later opened 40 Sardines. She returned to The American in 2008, when it received AAA Four Diamond and Mobil Travel Guide four-star ratings.
The American pop-up will kick off May 14 with its first public event under the American Concept Series: a Mother’s Day brunch that was almost sold out as of Friday.
It also will showcase emerging and famed national and international chefs, some specializing in ethnic cuisines, some in new sustainability processes or plant-based menus, as well as cookbook authors from across the country.
The American also can be booked for wedding receptions, retirement parties, board meetings and other events for 50 to 250 people, and up to two years in advance. It also is working with the new Hallmark Weddings bridal packages, a one-stop-shop for weddings offering everything from stationery to hair-styling and rehearsal dinners to hotel stays.
Johnson had his wedding reception at The American in 1994. He has owned six restaurants, served as a corporate restaurant executive and as a consultant, but said he has a very strong personal interest in iconic, multigenerational restaurants such as The American.
“So many restaurants are just about fuel — you eat and you are gone,” he said. “But some of the best memories are about eating a meal and making connections. You don’t go to The American with the expectation of in-and-out-in-an-hour. You want something special, a shared experience. I really think that people need these places.”