File video -- New Californos owners: ‘We feel like the two most fortunate guys in Westport’
Twin brothers, both development attorneys raised in Wichita, were looking to invest in a Westport restaurant.
Austin and Bryant Parker, 32, liked Westport’s history, the neighborhood and its central location as a gathering place for the Kansas City community.
They told a friend of their plans.
One night, her neighbor Terry Burns invited her to eat at his Westport restaurant, Californos. Burns happened to mention he was thinking of selling the operation.
Then she called the brothers.
“We had no idea when I got a call that night that this was an opportunity that we would be involved in a 31-year restaurant,” said Austin Parker. “We feel like the two most fortunate guys in Westport right now.”
The 12,500-square-foot Californos — spread over three levels at 4124 Pennsylvania Ave. in what is dubbed “south Westport” — is a restaurant, wedding and private party venue, and catering operation. It also has a live music venue, the Saloon, that is open a couple of nights a week.
But the brothers said they were sold on the place when they saw the downstairs office stuffed with three decades of Burns family and Westport memorabilia: “Pops, On your birthday. Love, Everett.” Drawings of President Kennedy, Jimi Hendrix and Janice Joplin, along with ones of Californos’ bar. Photos of Terry’s rescue horse and vintage Westport posters. And by the office entrance — a height chart measuring growth of the Burns’ grandchildren.
“How could we not be part of this?” they said together.
The deal was finalized in mid-October, when the brothers officially took over. They plan to buy out Burns in the next decade. Meanwhile, they have been slowly transitioning to Parker & Vine at Californos. Parker is after their surname, Vine for their emphasis on California wines.
They took tables from the former Prospect of Westport (a beloved restaurant that closed in mid-1990) and refinished them by hand, giving them a dark, slightly burnt look, and they put a polished ebony piano in the lounge area of the bathrooms.
The Parkers wanted to personally love everything on the menu. So they’ve kept the Prospect salad (a customer favorite with butter lettuce, walnuts, blue cheese, hearts of palm and almond vinaigrette), and brought back a Californos dish from the early 1990s — a crab strudel, baked not fried.
They also wanted to offer prime steak specials for under $30. They have a 12-ounce prime strip with creamed spinach and scalloped potatoes for $22, and a 12-ounce rib eye with shallot butter and sides of asparagus and lardons scalloped potatoes for $26.
Other new menu items include a Norwegian salmon with maple bourbon and a Hatch Green Chile burger.
Beau Williams, co-owner of the nearby Julep Cocktail Club, has created some new cocktails and is currently on board as manager.
Restaurant Week specials at Parker & Vine include a choice of entrees — mixed grill (chicken, shrimp, steak, sauteed vegetables and jasmine rice), rib eye, Pasta Diablo, or the crab strudel, along with 25 percent off drinks.
The restaurant has a 3 a.m. liquor license so the Parkers plan to introduce a late-night menu. They also plan to have live music on the patio during warmer months and open the Saloon for live music one more night a week.
Nearly a year ago, Californos had to temporarily shut down when 126 people reported illness after attending one of two events catered by Californos. The exact cause of the illness was never determined, but Burns lost out on restaurant and catering sales for two weeks, and lost some deposits on future weddings from couples who didn’t know when it would reopen.
“We lost a ton of money and we either needed to stop or regroup. To more forward, we needed to take on investors,” Burns said.
The Parker brothers said they did a “top to bottom” audit, upgraded the facility, and researched the best processes to adopt to prevent health code violations.
Marita Swift, Terry’s daughter and director of catering operations at Californos, also is now overseeing the menu changes and kitchen operations. Terry’s son, Aaron Barksdale-Burns, will continue as sales manager, and Terry’s cousin, Mig Lillig, serves as assistant sales manager and “part-time grandmother.”
“She has her own grandchildren now but she helped me with mine. We weaned them at work,” Terry Burns said. “It’s about family. That mattered to (the brothers). We both grew up on farms and our grandfathers were cattle buyers. So we clicked right away and understood a lot of the same things.”
Along with their new restaurant, the attorneys also share clients and spend about a day a week in Wichita.
“It seems like we can’t ever get enough of this whole togetherness thing,” Bryant said.
They both added: “Now we’re in the restaurant business together.”