Published April 6th, 2021 at 12:00 PM3 minute read
By Kevin Collison
A Columbus Park building that once housed a point of community pride when it was LaSala’s Deli for decades is now a source of worry for residents.
They’re concerned Kevin Hill, the owner of The North End at 910 E. Fifth St., may continue in the ways of its previous operator, Mike Elliott, who catered to a rowdy crowd and ultimately had his liquor license renewal denied last summer.
The neighborhood association wants the city to require Hill to seek a new liquor license rather than roll over the permit issued previously to Elliott.
“Last summer, the residents and small business owners in Columbus Park witnessed numerous alarming incidents at the restaurant/bar called The North End that had recently changed owners,” Dan Wayne, a nearby property owner, wrote in a widely-distributed email.
“Given The North End’s conflicts and disrespect for the quality of life–and safety–of our community, requiring Mr. Hill to be treated as a new applicant would be a fair way to restart the neighborhood’s relationship with The North End…”
Hill however, says the neighborhood is penalizing him for the problems of the former operator and insists he wants to make a clean start.
“I’m not saying you have to forget what you’ve been through, but give me a chance,” he said.
“I’ve already spent the money on the building and it will reopen. I’m not going to let their negativity affect my plans.”
The building was once the address of a cherished neighborhood institution, LaSala’s Deli. It was a family business known citywide for its sandwiches that dated back to 1921 before closing about a decade ago.
After going through a couple other operators, Elliott took over place in 2019, according to Wayne. At first, the business was relatively low-key. Then the Covid pandemic forced it to temporarily close.
“After the emergency shutdown, it became more of a night club (when it reopened),” Wayne said. “It got loud.
“People had been locked up all winter and it became a huge party place for people all over Kansas City, drinking, leaving litter, peeing (in public) and racing up and down the street.”
To reinforce his point, Wayne included video shot last year illustrating the problems at The North End in the group email he sent City Council members and the press.
Finally, after multiple violations of the Covid-related public health regulations and other rules regarding liquor sales, the city rejected Collins application to renew his liquor license last July.
Hill said Elliott got behind on his rent and he finally evicted him. He acknowledged the way the business was run previously had been “a bad fit for the neighborhood.”
“I’d like to get The North End back to the way it used to be and I got the new owner (Elliott) out of there,” he said. “I tried to put people’s mind at ease that it would change.”
But Hill said the neighborhood’s demand he show them his business plan and also reapply for his liquor license annoyed him.
“These people are like a pack of wolves,” he said. “I don’t need to give them a business plan.
“I know they’ve had a bad experience in the past and I’m trying to do my best but there’s so much negativity from them.”
Wayne however, said Hill is a good friend of Elliott’s and believes the transition was only a cooperative way to keep operating The North End without going through the formal liquor license application process.
Under city liquor regulations, a license can be transferred to a new operator who’s not changing the basic nature of the business.
Jim Ready, the manager of the city regulated industries division, said the rule is in place to allow businesses like Applebee’s, who sometimes change their ownership structure, to not have to go through the process of reapplying for a liquor license.
Wayne says the law is being misapplied in the case of The North End, describing Hill as exploiting a “loophole” in liquor license regulations.
“He clearly planned to do this all along,” Wayne said.
Ready said that Hill’s application to continue the liquor license is still pending. He added that Wayne’s description of the process as being a “loophole” was incorrect.
“If a different entity wants to get back to it being a bar and restaurant, that’s the same business as was there before,” Ready said.
“I told Mr. Wayne if that (North End) application comes to me, I’ll have a meeting with the owner and lay out what happened before that drove the neighborhood crazy.
“I’ll lay it out that you’ll be on a short leash. I don’t want to see anything like that happening.”
Hill said he wants to get The North End back to the place “people loved.”
“What it boils down to is whether its a bar that serves food or a restaurant that served drinks,” he said. “I want to run it like a restaurant that serves alcohol.”