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As Kansas City's EBT Restaurant Prepares To Close, Here's A Look At Its Iconic Namesake

EBT. For some Kansas Citians the acronym has no particular meaning, but for long-time residents it's a reminder of the former downtown department store, Emery, Bird, Thayer & Company — or the restaurant that takes its name and some of its decor from this former Kansas City institution. EBT the restaurant announced to staffers Monday that it would close on December 31.

EBT, the department store

The department store's roots date back to the 1860s at Missouri Avenue and Main, where Coates & Bullene provided supplies for travelers heading West. It changed names and locations several times through the decades. 

Credit Wikipedia commons
Wikipedia commons
An early postcard describes Emery, Bird, Thayer as "The South West's Greatest Store."

In 1890, Emery, Bird, Thayer (as it became known in 1895) opened in a seven-story building that stretched the block between Walnut and Main on east 11th Street, or Petticoat Lane. A promotional brochure from 1902 described it as "the biggest retail dry goods store in the state of Missouri." 

Emery, Bird, Thayer expanded in 1925, adding a branch on the Country Club Plaza, but started to struggle after World War II and closed itsfamed tea room. Downtown Kansas City was in decline, and customers were moving from the urban core to the suburbs, where there were other shopping options. The store closed in 1968. 

The building was torn down in the early 1970s. United Missouri Bank built in its place and kept some of the architectural relics, including stained glass, wrought iron archways, and two brass elevator cages.

EBT, the restaurant

Since 1979, some decor from the old department store has been on display at EBT, the restaurant and lounge in a UMB building at I-435 and State Line.

“I don't dine at EBT often, but I'm always delighted when I do," wrote The Pitch's Charles Ferruzza in a review from 2007. "The entertainment begins at the front door, where there's a handsome pianist doing his thing on the baby grand.... With surprising grace and agility, black-clad servers maneuver their rolling, tile-topped carts through the dining room for showy tableside dishes.”

Ed Holland, president of Myron Green Corporation and EBT's first general manager, says it's been upscale since the beginning.

"We were in tuxedos, white tablecloths, fresh flowers on the table, candlelight," he says.

Credit courtesy KC Loft Central
courtesy KC Loft Central
The EBT name won't be going away completely. Their 1899 warehouse building at 16th and Walnut has been converted into the EBT Lofts in the Crossroads Arts District.

 Many EBT customers were drawn to the restaurant because they felt a connection to the Emery, Bird, Thayer department store. 

"Back when I first started, a lot of people would say, 'Hey, I used to work at Emery, Bird's,' 'I used to shop at Emery, Bird's,' 'I was the elevator operator at Emery, Bird's,'" he says. "They kind of renewed that connection by dining with us at the new EBT. But unfortunately, they're no longer around." 

With an aging customer base and expectations for more casual, and less expensive, dining, Holland says the restaurant has "not performed financially the way we would like it to for a few years now."

After discussing options such as re-branding the restaurant and making it more contemporary and weighing the cost factors, he says, "we just decided to shut her down instead."

Holland is back in the restaurant, working lunches and dinners and saying farewell to long-time patrons through closing day on December 31

As for the gilded elevators and other artifacts, UMB owns them. The curator was out of the office Wednesday and not available for a comment about the future for the remnants of EBT. 

Laura Spencer is an arts reporter at KCUR 89.3. You can reach her on Twitter, @lauraspencer.

Kansas City is known for its style of jazz, influenced by the blues, as the home of Walt Disney’s first animation studio and the headquarters of Hallmark Cards. As one of KCUR’s arts reporters, I want people here to know a wide range of arts and culture stories from across the metropolitan area. I take listeners behind the scenes and introduce them to emerging artists and organizations, as well as keep up with established institutions. Send me an email at lauras@kcur.org or follow me on Twitter @lauraspencer.
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