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Restaurants Become Cornerstones of Troost Renaissance Emerging Restaurant Row

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Above image credit: Entrance to Ruby Jean's Kitchen & Juicery. (Courtesy | Ruby Jean's Kitchen & Juicery)
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14 minute read

Chris Goode took a chance on his old neighborhood. He opened Ruby Jean’s Kitchen & Juicery at 3000 Troost Ave. in 2017 when most restaurants along the corridor were fast food operations or old-school comfort food diners. 

Goode grew up nearby, went to daycare at St. Vincent’s, and had been using a kitchen commissary in the building. But he hesitated, wondering if Troost was ready for a fresh juice and healthy eating shop. 

“I wrestled with it,” Goode recalled. “But then I was disappointed that I questioned it – that there would be such a volume from that location and quite a few people to understand that concept and give it a chance.”  

Chris Goode at Ruby Jean's Kitchen & Juicery.
Chris Goode, owner of Ruby Jean’s Kitchen & Juicery. (Courtesy | Ruby Jean’s Kitchen & Juicery)

Today, Ruby Jean’s isn’t just a destination for the northern end of the historic thoroughfare, other new eateries also have opened along the stretch from 30th to 79th streets. And more are coming. 

On a chilly Saturday this month, Blackhole Bakery was sold out before lunch. Diners at Equal Minded Café filled up on breakfast tacos and avocado toast to loud music and laughter. And shoppers at Community Groceries selected staples such as fresh produce and Shatto milk. 

At 75th and Troost, there’s a banner announcing the new Chixen restaurant that opened last week. Meanwhile, lines snake from the drive-thru out onto the streets at mainstays Go Chicken Go and Wings N Things Express. 

Advocates say the influx of restaurants along Kansas City’s historic racial dividing line speaks volumes about its future. 

“There are white, Black and Hispanic businesses all on the same stretch,” Goode said. “And still today it is thought of as being on the dividing line. That doesn’t sound like division to me. There are so many offerings that bring people together in an area that was supposed to keep them apart.” 

Restaurant Row

Troost is emerging as a restaurant row offering a wide selection of cuisines and cultures ranging from African, Jamaican, Irish, Mexican and Middle Eastern. 

Many of the newer offerings focus on scratch kitchens using fresh ingredients. Several not only survived opening during COVID, but they are also expanding. 

There’s a cluster of new eateries around 55th and Troost.  

Barbacoa infuses traditional Mexican cuisine with American barbecue techniques (their beef ribs are smoked for 15 hours). Across the street are Blackhole Bakery, The Littlest Bake Shop and Reggae Kitchen. To the north sits Gaels Public House & Sports bar and grill. And to the south is High Hopes Ice Cream with a walk-up window.  

Michelle Millard lives in the nearby Troostwood neighborhood with her three teenagers. They regularly frequent Gaels, Tiki Taco, and Go Chicken Go.

“I just started letting the kids walk to Go Chicken Go. Love that Gaels is LGBTQ-friendly as that’s important for our family. It is important for kids to be exposed to all sorts of different people,” Millard said.  

They take to Gaels patio in the spring and summer and are big fans of its burgers.  

“My kids are from Haiti, so they really love the rice and the chicken at Wah Gwan and then Reggae Kitchen,” Millard said. 

Hannah Howard moved to Kansas City from Nashville in 2021, taking a job as curator of education at a museum in Shawnee. But she bought a house in Troostwood.

She likes the mix of ages and backgrounds, its proximity to schools, and the heart of the city. 

“There seems to be an interest in revitalizing the neighborhoods and keeping the houses that are here, preserving the integrity of the neighborhoods,” she said. “It’s an exciting time to be here. It is all growing so quickly – not with chains but a lot of home-grown businesses.”

Howard heads to Anchor Island Coffee for caffeine and a breakfast burrito. And while Blackhole Bakery is known for mochi doughnuts, the ham and gruyere croissant is her favorite. 

“You never know if you can walk right in or have a 20-minute wait on the sidewalk. But no one minds the wait,” Howard said. “And trivia at Gaels. It has just a jovial, welcoming environment.”

High Hopes Ice Cream hands out treats for Sadie, Howard’s Rottweiler/Border collie/Australian Cattle Dog mix. 

High Hopes Ice Cream.
High Hopes Ice Cream has a walk-up window for customers. (Joyce Smith | Flatland)

“Then there are staples in the area like Niecie’s (Restaurant) and that’s a really important part of Troost,” she said. “That’s what makes it feel rooted, not like it’s a brand-new place.” 

Along with Goode, Justin Clark was a pioneer in Troost’s restaurant row with Urban Café. Although it later relocated and then closed, Clark is returning, partnering with childhood friend Ronald Evans on Urban restaurant at 3420 Troost. A mid-March opening is scheduled.  

“It feels great. Right now, it seems like where the demand is,” he said. “Food always brings people together.”   

Residents say that some fancier places such as Barbacoa are needed, but caution that most price points need to fit the neighborhood.  

Some neighbors would like to see a 24-hour diner where retirees can gather over coffee in the mornings and students get a bite at 2 a.m. They also would like to see healthier, to-go operations. They also want more retail. 

The Black Pantry, a Midtown shop selling specialty foods, self-care and home products by Black-owned businesses locally and nationally, hopes to expand to Troost.

The businesses want more parking to accommodate the growing traffic, perhaps angled slots that have helped in Brookside, and more bike racks.  

“Troost is not this outlier anymore, not this anomaly, ostracized and scary,” Goode said. “It’s not the wall between the haves and have-nots. It should be celebrated and brought up to par with the rest of Kansas City.”  

Notable Troost Offerings 

Anchor Island Coffee 

Armando Vasquez and his husband, Mike Hastings, had full-time jobs when they made plans for a new locally owned coffee shop. They started looking for spots in Johnson County where they were sharing an apartment with roommates. 

“You look for a place where people will love you the most, support you the most,” Vasquez said. “But everything was so expensive. We would have had to sell a lot of coffee.” 

They zeroed in on a Crossroads spot, but the landlord wanted them to have a minimum of $100,000 in savings. They landed at 4101 Troost, opening Anchor Island Coffee serving espressos, lattes, cappuccinos, blueberry lattes and their Dirty Sunrise (with orange juice and coffee). 

Less than two weeks later the COVID-19 pandemic hit Kansas City.  

“It was very scary, very confusing, very bad. All the feelings combined,” Vasquez said. “We were ready to open and take care of the customers, all excited. That first day of seeing people walk in. Then COVID happened. What now?” 

Armando Vasquez and Mike Hastings at Anchor Island Coffee.
Armando Vasquez and Mike Hastings at Anchor Island Coffee. (Joyce Smith | Flatland)

They reopened in September 2020 and customers slowly trickled in, following social distancing rules. The partners offered coupons, giveaways and small sponsorships to get the word out. 

With COVID restrictions still in place, the neighborhood needed more food options. So they put up a menu using fresh, healthy ingredients – tuna melts, tamales, burritos, acai bowls, and fruit cups.  

“Our customers really notice when something new is on the menu. When we added cold brew on tap, they were, ‘Oh, you are fancy now,’ ” Vasquez said laughing. “As an owner you have to be there, paying attention. What is working, what isn’t?”  

They raised $26,000 from an investment campaign and are adding more refrigeration and cooking equipment. They also hope to open another location by the end of the year. 

“A mixed-race Latino LGBT couple, they see we are able to make it work with all things life might throw at you,” Vasquez said. 

Big Mouth’s Chicken Fish Tenderloins 

Devan Taylor first opened Big Mouth’s Chicken Fish Tenderloins on Van Brunt in 2016. He closed it in 2022 when Taco Bell wanted the lot for a new location. But just three months later he had remodeled a Troost building and was back in business. 

Big Mouth’s at 5946 Troost has a few seats inside, a patio and a busy drive-thru. Its specials are plastered on the side of the black building: “Drinks any size $1.” “$5 Big-Box 1-burger 1-fry 1pc chicken or 1 fish.” “Burgers & Breakfast All Day.” 

“The perfect location became available – the car traffic, the foot traffic, are excellent, and the exposure,” Taylor said. “And the neighborhood is culturally diverse.” 

Along with its namesake items – chicken, fish and tenderloins – the menu includes pork chops, breakfast sandwiches, fried potatoes and onions, collard greens, spaghetti, chili and coleslaw. Among the most popular orders are the house-made cinnamon rolls and the Double Soul Burger.  

Devan Taylor, owner of Big Mouth's Chicken Fish Tenderloin.
Devan Taylor, owner of Big Mouth’s Chicken Fish Tenderloin. (Joyce Smith | Flatland)

“It’s traditional with hamburger, mayo, mustard, pickles, lettuce and cheese. But it has a special taste, a smoky flavor, that no one can figure out,” Taylor said with a sly smile. “If they meet me behind the building, I will tell them what’s in it.” 

He’s keeping the $5 specials – The Big Mouth Breakfast Box and Big Mouth Dinner Box – at least through the summer. They’ve been hugely popular with nearby barber shops, hair salons and university employees. 

He plans four more locations and has his eye on another Troost building just a few blocks away. 

“(The neighbors) put their arms around me. It’s been unbelievable. I intend to keep the quality up and we will go from there,” he said.  

Blackhole Bakery 

After working for chain bakeries, Jason Provo decided to go all-in on his own shop. He pulled funds out of his 401(k), and at 48 years old it’s a debt he hopes to start paying back soon. 

He tried to buy a River Market bakery, but the deal fell through. He looked at Westport space but turning it into a bakery would have been too expensive (it also was smaller than his current space that he is already outgrowing). 

“I was chomping at the bit to get into one of those hot areas,” Provo said. 

Then he parked his car on Troost at 6 a.m. and watched the traffic. 

“I’ve lived here my entire life and I know Troost very well,” he said. “I think 20 years ago when you said Troost it evoked some irrational fears. And I didn’t really think of it as its own entity. Little did I find out this is a very vibrant neighborhood and then all these people traveling to come here.” 

The rent on Troost was a bit cheaper than other sites he looked at. The space at 5531 Troost had a working kitchen so that saved him about $65,000, and he did much of the cosmetic work himself. 

Entrance to Blackhole Bakery.
Entrance to Blackhole Bakery. (Joyce Smith | Flatland)

When COVID hit, he considered pushing back the opening, but his employees would not have been eligible for unemployment.

He figured Heirloom Bakery & Hearth and McLain’s would get most of the Brookside/Waldo bakery business. But that hasn’t been the case. He not only draws from those nearby neighborhoods, but he also has fans who make the drive from as far as the Northland and Olathe. And he will send his customers to the other area bakeries if they are looking for a pastry he doesn’t carry. 

But when The Littlest Bake Shop moved in just a few doors down, he spent six or seven hours thinking, “How dare they!” 

“I’m very protective of my shop and the people who work for me. It scared me,” he said. “But more bodies are more bodies. This is wonderful. Kansas City loves good stuff, and they are probably just going to eat more pastries. Now there are so many more reasons to want to get a bite on Troost.” 

Still, real estate agents keep trying to get him to move. He said they keep asking, “When are you going to leave and get a big boy spot in Leawood?”  

Instead, he’s expanding Blackhole Bakery, taking the space to the south. The current space will be a full-service coffee bar, but still grab-and-go only, and have more breads, packaged foods and some hot items such as toasted bagels. 

“I wish the city would kind of rally and think of this less as a thoroughfare but considered more of a business district,” Provo said. “I would be happy if I was alone here and successful but with more businesses you can spend the whole afternoon. Go shopping, go to this entertainment place, then to Blackhole.” 

Cafe Reflections 

Cafe Reflections is a restaurant in front, and culinary institute in back. 

Chef Anita Moore of Soirée Steak & Oyster House teamed up with Mark Byrd of New Reflections Technical Institute on the project. 

“We wanted to help our community with workforce development and provide healthy food,” Byrd said. “Customers love it. They are excited that it looks fresh, it looks inviting.”  

Entrance of Cafe Reflections.
Entrance of Cafe Reflections. (Joyce Smith | Flatland)

Byrd has a dozen students per 12-week program. 

Smoothies and fresh fruit drinks are among the top orders. The restaurant also offers mushroom-based vegan burgers, Philly steaks, fried fish sandwiches, pan pizzas, Reubens, and daily specials such as baked chicken, mashed potatoes and gravy, fresh green beans, and shrimp or chicken fettuccine. 

Play It Forward sandwiches are $5 and for every purchase Cafe Reflections will give a free sandwich to someone in need. 

Chixen Kansas City 

The newest addition to Troost’s restaurant row is Chixen Kansas City, “Home of the chicken burger.” 

Owner Anthony Dedmon opened Chixen in Kansas City, Kansas, in March 2021 and closed in December to relocate to the former Epicurean space at 7502 Troost. 

“It’s the backbone of the city,” he said. “We’ve won a lot of local awards but didn’t have a lot of traffic.”  

Anthony Dedmon, owner of Chixen Kansas City.
Anthony Dedmon, owner of Chixen Kansas City. (Joyce Smith | Flatland)

Chixen has softly opened in part of the space with a grand opening scheduled for March 20. It offers chicken burgers for dine-in or to-go.

The Culture is a half-pound Chixen burger with tomato citrus slaw, sliced red onion, Swiss cheese and jerk aioli. The Monarch has a half-pound Chixen burger, romaine lettuce, tomato, caramelized onion, jalapeno beef bacon, cheddar cheese and bourbon barbecue sauce. Prices range from $5 for The Mini to $24 for the nearly two-pound The Heavy.  

He’s partnering with Bryan Davis on an event space called Culture X. They tested it out with a private Super Bowl watch party.

The Littlest Bake Shop 

Iris Green did cupcake pop-ups in a coffee shop at 59th and Holmes before using her savings to turn it into The Littlest Bake Shop. It quickly grew from cupcakes and coffee to include brunch and lunch –  all gluten-free, all-vegan products. 

“I’ve had people come in and say, ‘This is the first birthday cake I’ve been able to eat,’ ” she said. “Our customer base is so much about allergies.” 

She expanded the kitchen into the dining room with just a pick-up window for a time, just to have more room. 

Cupcakes from The Littlest Bake Shop.
The Littlest Bake Shop offers all gluten-free and vegan products. (Courtesy | The Littlest Bake Shop)

The Troost space is larger, more affordable and seats 28 compared to a dozen at the other space. It also offers “more visibility, not tucked into a neighborhood,” Green said.  

She was concerned that she would be considered a “gentrifier.” But many of her customers were already coming from the area. 

“We opened in December and that was our best sales month ever,” she said. 

Sweet Cups Roll Ice Cream & Coffee  

Da’Juan and Nikole Hill operated near the airport for a year before moving their Sweet Cups Roll Ice Cream & Coffee to Troost in late 2021. 

“We wanted more of a community and up north we couldn’t build relationships. We were getting more businesspeople, people coming into town for the holidays,” Nikole Hill said. “Utilities are cheaper here, rent is cheaper, and it is closer to where we live.” 

They dropped their prices from the Northland location and added some $1 items including popsicles and $2 hot dogs. 

One challenge was introducing the concept of rolled ice cream to the neighborhood. They make the Thai street food with gelato, rolling it out on a cold plate and dropping in mixers such as chopped Oreos, strawberries and cookie dough, while spellbound customers look on. 

Da’Juan and Nikole Hill at Sweet Cups Roll Ice Cream & Coffee.
Da’Juan and Nikole Hill at Sweet Cups Roll Ice Cream & Coffee. (Joyce Smith | Flatland)

The shop has signature rolled ice creams (the KC Cheesecake comes with a vanilla base, cheesecake and graham cracker mixers, and whipped toppings), or customers can create their own rolled ice cream with a variety of choices in ice cream, mixers and toppings. Other menu items include ice cream cones and cups, vegan and sugar-free options, and hot and cold coffee drinks. This summer it will offer rolled ice cream in a sweet taco shell.  

Seasonal flavors include butter pecan in the winter, and cotton candy in the spring. But the couple try to stay away from flavors that High Hopes Ice Cream is doing, even though it is more than a dozen blocks to the south.  

The Hills are refurbishing an ice cream truck that they plan to roll out this summer, and they hope to add another location in 2025.  

“If it wasn’t for our regulars supporting us, we would not have made it,” Da’Juan Hill said. “One person might tell two people and two people might tell four.” 

Wah Gwan 

Tanyech “Tan” Yarbrough was born in Jamaica and raised in Brooklyn, and is a mother of four, grandmother of two. 

She left her job as a district manager for Marshalls in late 2019, got her plans approved in February 2020 and started her build-out for Wah Gwan when COVID hit Kansas City. The pandemic gave her time to be even more creative.

Her husband is a native of Nigeria, so she put some of his family dishes on the menu to set her restaurant apart from other Jamaican operations. 

She offers chicken served in several ways (jerk, brown stew, curry chicken, honey garlic barbecue wings). Another choice is curry goat with rice and peas or jollof, and a side of steamed cabbage. The menu also includes oxtails, coconut curry shrimp, snapper escovitch, Nigerian soups such as egusi, and honey garlic barbecue tofu. 

“So many dishes we know and grew up on, it may be called something different in West Africa. So, in some way I wanted to pay homage to our West African heritage,” she said. “Great food, great service and an atmosphere that makes everyone feel like they are in Nigeria and Jamaica.” 

Tanyech “Tan” Yarbrough visits with customers at Wah Gwan.
Tanyech “Tan” Yarbrough visits with customers at Wah Gwan. (Joyce Smith | Flatland)

Wah Gwan is a way to say, “What’s going on” or “What’s up” in Patois, she said.

Her family is her biggest support. Her mother and children helped during the opening. Her sister, Nadine “Wing” Wong, is now the manager, moving to Kansas City from New York a year ago. Her husband, John Allagh, helps with repairs and installed an electric fireplace insert into the bar on a recent weekday. 

Yarbrough tries to make improvements each quarter so the neighborhood will be proud of her restaurant. 

She also tries to give back to the community. 

“If you had even a slice of bread more than your neighbor, you share. That’s how I grew up. I believe that’s how you get your blessings,” she said. “There were some break-ins last year along Troost. But I like to think that we are a protected space. I don’t worry about that. Overall, the community has really supported us and looked after this building. When you do your role and take care of people, I think good will follow.” 

Flatland contributor Joyce Smith covered local restaurants and retail for nearly 40 years with The Kansas City Star. Follow her on X and Facebook at #JoyceKC, and Instagram and Threads at #joyceinkc 

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