Justin Bliefnick heard all the rumors after it was announced he would close his beloved fast-casual restaurant, Frankie Farelane’s.
The popular downtown Lee’s Summit dining spot — named for its likeness to an indoor street food truck, a combination of “fare” and “lane” — had taken just about all Bliefnick and his wife, Emily, had left to give.
To say running two downtown restaurants was a chore might be the understatement of the year, which is saying something knowing Bliefnick’s successful history in the food-and-beverage business.
But, at 36 and with two children at home, he knew when it was time to cut ties.
“It was literally the only time all four of us were home, on Sundays,” Bliefnick said. “It was a different work-life balance. You could see it stressing out the kids.”
All the tacos and wings in the world couldn’t save Frankie’s.
So, after the decision was made, all the food was sold, and the employees’ hours had been logged, Justin decided to close the only spot on the planet where you could order something called a “Dill Brasky” or a “Trash Panda.”
Originally scheduled to close Dec. 9, Bliefnick wound up ending the run for Frankie’s a day early, but he didn’t mourn the loss. He might have slept better that night than he had in years.
“I woke up that Saturday, the 9th, and felt about 100 pounds lighter,” Bliefnick said, sitting at a high-top at his most popular tavern-and-tables concept, Stuey McBrew’s. “I didn’t have to deal with it anymore.”
Indeed, after conversations about expansion and franchises, Bliefnick faced a harsh reality that many of us will never have to face: closing a business — a popular business, a profitable business.
Since that made little sense to some, the rumor mill bubbled over. Bliefnick’s personal favorite was that he was getting more than $2 million to sell his restaurant to a large chain.
“The guy is telling me this and I keep telling him no,” Bliefnick recalled. “He kept saying ‘Yeah, sure,’ and winking like he was in the know. His opening line was ‘$2.3 million, huh?’ Then, he proceeded to tell me how we screwed up by selling it. It was confusing and hilarious.”
Word had leaked out that Frankie’s was on the market, but, after many months and with potential buyers coming and going, Justin and Emily made a heart-wrenching decision — for the customers and employees.
The food at Frankie’s had as many regulars as a bar does, and the Facebook post announcing the impending closure sent the business into the stratosphere for the final days.
“There were guys in there three, four days a week, so we were really going to shut down their dietary choices,” Bliefnick laughed. “It felt good to see (the social media) but it also felt kind of sad, too. A lot of restaurants like to die and close the doors under the radar. The staff didn’t deserve that and neither did the customers. But it gave us the best week of our existence. It was bananas.”
Potential buyers are still in the works, he said, but the process will likely play out over a lengthy period of time.
The silver lining to shutting down Frankie’s could be the addition of lunch hours at Stuey’s, which opened in 2010 and is one of the most established bars in downtown. Bliefnick said he knows that if he is to expand his Stu’s footprint, he needs to be open for lunch and dinner.
“It’s in the infancy, right now,” he said. “So, if we said spring, it would probably be fall. The biggest roadblock for us is personnel. There’s a lot of restaurants open all the time now. The group of people working at restaurants is getting smaller.”
That’s the new struggle in the restaurant business, Bliefnick said, the personnel side of things, and this is coming from a guy who knows his way around the biz.
Bliefnick has successfully managed at spots all around Lee’s Summit, including Paddy O’Quigley’s, Beauchamp’s and Bench Warmer’s. His first restaurant job was at the iconic Summit Hickory Pit BBQ in 1996.
“I was the host, but I called myself the concierge,” Bliefnick said. He added, “They are kind of the testament to the family-owned restaurant. They do it right.”
With the focus back on Stuey’s and possible expansion, Bliefnick can zoom back into his family, his crew and those that worked alongside him during this process, both inside his building and around downtown Lee’s Summit.
“There is just so much community around here,” he said. “Everyone is ready to help each other out. You’re allowed to make some mistakes here because there is such a sense of community. And Billy Conway, he’s back at Stuey’s. He’s a huge piece of what we do.”
Lee’s Summit resident John Beaudoin writes about city and civic issues, people and personalities around town. Reach him at firstname.lastname@example.org.