It's always a delight to sit down for conversation with Jimmy Frantze, one of KC's most beloved restaurateurs and owner of JJ's Restaurant in the West Plaza. After the tragic fire that destroyed the original location in February of 2013, Jimmy's never doubted they would rebuild. "It was just a question of could the original location be rebuilt or would a more suitable location be found, "he says. That question was resolved when the Polsinelli Law firm that was constructing new digs right across the street offered JJ's prime space on their main floor.
Jimmy and nearly all of his previous employees moved into their new home in late 2014 and embraced the new venue as the next chapter in their saga. A new venue has brought change but also opportunity to one of KC's iconic eateries, but Jimmy says that they are still so "incredibly grateful" to the people of Kansas City, their business neighbors, and all those who have continued to support them in their new, upscale ambiance. It was very heartening to hear as we update our readers on progress since the move.
We chatted for a bit about the plusses and minuses and Jimmy's enthusiasm was, as always, infectious. A chief upsides of the new space he tells us is that it comes with tons of free [with validation] covered parking. That was one of the downsides in the old space, finding parking in the busy mixed-use area of the West Plaza. "No more!" crows Jimmy. "it's convenient to park in the underground space and take the short elevator ride" up to the Main lobby and stroll into JJ's beautifully appointed space. "You never have to get your feet wet or swelter in the heat walking from your car." Hard to argue with that!
Another of his favorite things about the new space is the expansive outdoor patio that seats more than 100, making it one of the largest al fresco dining experiences in KC. "We only had a few chairs & tables out on the sidewalk across the street; but here we can take advantage of KC's beautiful [yet changeable] weather any time" He says they are always prepared to set up for lunch or dinner on the patio when it's warm and sunny outside and guests love that. The patio has also filled in the gap in private dining space [which is one thing Jimmy misses]. But sabre-ing open bottles of champagne [a Jimmy Frantze signature] outside is just as much fun as inside - with less chance of broken glassware.
The ambiance is killer and will remind folks of the warm, friendly atmosphere of the first 28 years of the JJ's, and of course the walls are adorned with a bold, new collection of Mike Savage's artistry, replacing what was lost in the fire. Yet aside from the space the service is still "friends and family" hospitable and the menu, under the stewardship of T.J. Stack, is maintaining the long list of JJ's long-time, traditional favorites. Us old timers love that.
Yet, "the times [and tastes] they are a changin' and we are too," says Jimmy. It's mostly demographics driving the shift, with younger patrons with palate's that require new ingredients, different portioning [tapas and small plates], and menus that strike a balance between healthy and decadent. JJ's response is to tweak some familiar items to address these trends and experimenting with chef's specials to create new traditions for a new generation. JJ's popular Happy Hour takes advantage of the much larger bar space, but the bounteous wine cellar is still one of their key components - still award winning!
Of course, with Valentine's Day coming up, JJ's makes a fantastic choice for that special night. We asked Jimmy about anything else to look forward to aside from lots of delicious afternoons and evenings on the patio. His response: "We have a couple of great Wine Dinners coming up in March and April; kicking off the renewal of that program featuring vintners from around the globe. Personally, we can't wait!