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Recently, I had to explain to some teenagers what an indoor shopping mall was. Well, there are still a few around, but they were totally unfamiliar with the concept of a large building with hundred of stores, on multiple levels, and a food court. And fountains. And the Wurlitzer organ store that never had any customers. Explained that before the Internet, teens got dropped off at malls by parents and they entertained themselves for an afternoon.
What food and restaurants do you miss from bygone malls like Bannister, Metro North, and Metcalf South? Do you miss classic food court stands? Quirky snack places? Fast casual destinations? What did you love as a kid? Teenager? Adult?
As a teenager growing up in south Kansas City, I hung out at Oak Park Mall, Bannister Mall, and Metcalf South. As a bookish nerd with weird social skills, I spent those visits by myself, hanging out in bookstores and record stores. In my college years, when I was home from college during the summer, you’d find me more at Bannister, Blue Springs, and Metro North malls (I worked at Worlds of Fun). I’d go to movies with friends, get food, and hang out at the video game arcades.
Only two malls from the golden era of malls currently operate in the Kansas City metro: Oak Park Mall and Independence Center. The Ward Parkway Mall is still thriving, but it’s more of a hybrid mall now than what is was back in the mid 20th century.
I asked friends and family about bygone mall restaurants and food stands. Below I will share some of their nominations and what I remember or could dig up through online research.
I’ve written previously in this newsletter and on the blog about Annie’s Santa Fe, a popular, bygone Mexican restaurant that always comes up when I ask Kansas Citians which restaurants they miss. I was also a fan of Annie’s and patronized the location at Bannister Mall (was located where Cerner is now, Bannister Road and I-435). I recall it being my first experience of Mexican food being something other than Taco Bell, Taco Via, or tacos made at home.
Topsy’s popcorn is very much still doing a booming business. You can find their stores at the big two malls, inside a Baskin Robbins in Brookside, and their classic tiny store on the Country Club Plaza. I have fond memories of their interesting location at Metcalf South Mall (was located at 95th and Metcalf Avenue in Overland Park). Interesting, because it wasn’t part of a food court. It was a narrow space on the second floor near the central atrium. It had seating that stretched back along a balcony that hung over a walkway to the parking lot.
Original Pizza was brought up by at least three friends and family members. This food court staple was at many of the dead malls, but still operates today at indoor malls like Oak Park and in strip mall locations. The Chuck Eats KC Youth Review Crew are fans of Original Pizza, but I’ve never had it.
1-Potato-2 at Bannister Mall was mentioned by one sibling and two friends. This was a national chain found in shopping mall food courts. The concept was baked potatoes with dozens of toppings. Sounds like a wonderful option for vegetarians. I’ve been a vegetarian since 1989 and somehow missed experiencing this chain.
Orange Julius had an interesting location at Metcalf South Mall. The national chain still has many locations, but it’s heyday was as a food court stall. The Metcalf South location was a bit hard to find, on the bottom floor, below the Topsy’s mentioned above. It was next to a CVS type variety store and a little used exit to the parking lots.
The first fruit smoothie I had as a young person may have come from this stand. Smoothies weren’t something we made at home and were hard to find anywhere else in Kansas City at the time. Their signature drink is the Piña Colada Julius® Original, which features pineapple and coconut flavors with milk as the base.
Putsch’s Cafeteria was a local chain of cafeterias and coffee shops that had stand alone vacations and spots at local malls and shopping districts (Country Club Plaza). When I was a kid, my parents would always take me and my siblings to Putsch’s after church on Sundays. There was a location of the cafeteria at Metcalf South Mall, in the upper north end of the mall. I don’t recall eating there as a teenager or young adult, but if you want consistent, quality cafeteria food (chicken and noodles, fried chicken, fried fish, chopped steak, mashed potatoes, green beans and more), Putsch’s was a reliable institution. And their glasses of cubed Jello.
Bishop’s Cafeteria at Bannister Mall was mentioned by one of my friends. I don’t recall this cafeteria, but my friend worked at multiple shops in the mall and patronized this place regularly.
Whenever I ask people about bygone Kansas City restaurants that they miss, Annie’s Santa Fe is mentioned most frequently. I’ve written about Annie’s Sante Fe in previous newsletters and on the website. I patronized their location at Bannister Mall. One friend fondly remembers their “amazing fried ice cream” and says that the restaurant morphed to a club atmosphere at night.
Smaks at various malls. Smaks was more known as a chain of stand alone buildings that served classic mid 20th century menu: burgers, fries, shakes and so on. I patronized their location on the top level of Metcalf South, which was adjacent to the central atrium. They had your basic hamburger joint menu options. Nothing ambitious, but always competently done and affordable.