Plaza vegetarian restaurant abruptly closes after nearly 25 years

Eden Alley’s Avocado Vera Cruz
Eden Alley’s Avocado Vera Cruz

After nearly a quarter century in the basement of Unity Temple on the Plaza, vegetarian restaurant Eden Alley has closed.

It first posted on social media that it would be closed from Aug. 29 to Sept. 15 to fix water damage from a February pipe break — replacing a damaged floor, installing air conditioning and other updates.

But on Sept. 2 it updated its Facebook page to say: “After more than 24 years, Eden Alley will no longer be open at Unity Temple on the Plaza. We’ll keep you posted …”

That post garnered more than 200 comments by Sept. 4, including: “Please, please try to find a new location. There’s so many people who love you guys! Including me!!!” and “Eden Alley had the best staff and the best food! Their curry, hummus, roasted potato burrito, and their deserts were incredible.”

Duke Tufty, CEO of Unity Temple on the Plaza, said Eden Alley’s lease expired and will not be renewed.

“It’s a really sad and difficult transition we are going through. I’ve always had the greatest love for Eden Alley,” Tufty said in a phone call Tuesday morning. “I don’t blame Eden Alley. It’s Eden Alley and Unity Temple together that came to this point. It’s like a divorce in many ways. We have irreconcilable differences.“

eden alley.JPG
After more than 24 years in the basement of Unity Temple on the Plaza, Eden Alley has closed. Joyce Smith

Eden’s Alley’s owners, as well as their attorney, Mandi Hunter, couldn’t be reached immediately for comment. However, some correspondence from Hunter to Unity Temple is posted on a bulletin board near the restaurant: “And now while Eden Alley is closed, you have advised them that you are not renewing their lease. So they have lost not only their revenue for the next 30 days (which includes lost revenue from the Plaza Art Fair) but also their earning potential in the near future.”

The Plaza Art Fair is Sept. 21-23.

Hunter said in the posted correspondence that Eden Alley’s owners have incurred damages in excess of $60,000 in the last 18 months “through no fault of my clients and due to the sole acts, negligent or otherwise, of Unity Temple.” She said Eden Alley has 60 days following the expiration of the lease to remove its equipment from Unity Temple, at 707 W. 47th St., per the terms of the lease.

Tufty disputed that, saying the lease wasn’t terminated, it expired. He said Unity could take possession of the restaurant space on Sept. 30.

“The plumbing issues shut everything down for about a week, 10 days. It was a real mess but it was all repaired,” he said. “We spent a great deal of money and gave the owners of Eden Alley an incredible amount of money, around $50,000, to do what they wanted.”

Tufty said Unity spent another $50,000 on shared spaces — the patio and the center part of Meyer Hall in the basement, where restaurant customers could dine. He said Eden Alley used those spaces for free. He will return the restaurant’s September rent if its possessions are removed by Sept. 10. If the possessions aren’t removed by Sept. 30 they will be disposed of.

The vegetarian restaurant opened in 1994. Originally, rent was 10 percent of sales in a “tithe” arrangement. But the restaurant did so well it started signing leases and paying rent.

It often used the “we’re just across from McDonald’s” in giving directions, but it outlasted that national chain (it closed in late 2009, replaced by Noodles & Co.), as well as other neighboring national chains such as Ruth’s Chris Steak House.

Earlier this year, PETA — People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals — ranked Kansas City No. 10 on its new “Top 10 Vegan-Friendly Cities” list and called the brunch at Eden Alley “simply divine” for its sweet potato Benedict and French toast bake.

It is not part of the Plaza proper, owned by Country Club Plaza KC Partners LLC, a venture by Taubman Centers Inc. and the Macerich Co.

Tufty said he is open to another vegetarian restaurant taking the space, which seats 120 people and 20 more on the patio, and continuing its vegetarian legacy.

He said in the 1920s, Unity Inn at Ninth and Tracy was one of the largest vegetarian cafeterias in the world, serving as many as 200 customers in one setting. In 1923 Unity School of Christianity published the Unity Inn Cookbook, which included meat substitutes.

The Unity Temple restaurant space is just up the street from the site of a new Nordstrom store that will anchor the Plaza’s west side when it opens in 2021.

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