After 30 Years Of Curing Kansas City Hangovers, Chubby's Calls It Quits
At 2 a.m. on Halloween night, Chubby's On Broadway was dishing out eggs, french fries and burgers to partiers as Motown music played in the background.
Earlier in the week, Kansas City's late-night fixture announced it would be closing at 3756 Broadway Boulevard on 6 a.m. Thursday. The announcement galvanized people to spill into the diner during the post-Halloween party rush and throughout the dead of night for one last round of the legendary free cinnamon rolls and breakfast food.
“I happen to enjoy greasy spoons,” said Jacob-Kelley Sells as he downed a reuben burger. “And this is, you know, one of the last fine examples.”
Chubby’s offered a classic diner feel, with leather booths, black-and-silver circle stools around the bar, black-and-white checkerboard walls and jukeboxes at every table. It was a place that brought a 1950s aesthetic to Kansas City.
Typically open for 24 hours from Thursday to Saturday, the diner earned a reputation as the go-to place in town to grab a meal after hours.
Amber Hillyer, who came with her friends a little after midnight dressed as a witch, said Chubby’s has something for everyone.
“It’s definitely always been sort of a home to me, whether I’m sober, drunk, what have you,” she said. “It’s always felt comfortable and welcoming.”
News of Chubby’s imminent closure brought people young, old and in-between early Thursday morning. About half were in costume and several were in drag, coming over from Missie B's, a nearby gay bar.
For many of the older patrons, Chubby’s was a constant in their lives.
“I’ve been coming here since I was barely 16,” Hillyer said. “This place has so many memories, I literally cannot believe it’s closing. So many huge points of my life have been spent here and now it’s just gone.”
One Chubby’s patron who gave his name as Big Dusty said he first ate at Chubby’s 20 years ago. His friend, who identified himself as Fat Nasty, said Chubby’s practically raised him.
“I grew up on this in high school,” he said. “We used to come here after homecomings, after proms, after all that.”
Chubby’s Diner first opened in the 1980s and was family owned for nearly 30 years before Tony Olson purchased it in 2013. The current owners of Chubby’s also own the Neighborhood Cafe on Ward Parkway, which offers the same menu.
In a statement, Olson said the decision to close Chubby’s was not easy. The diner will be replaced by a seafood restaurant in early 2019.
“We are thrilled to have been able to jump in with Chubby’s five years ago,” Olson said in his statement. “We introduced new concepts, free cinnamon rolls for each customer and worked daily to ensure the best service at this Kansas City icon.”
Waiter Aaron Gnirk said it was a blessing to work at Chubby’s for ten years.
“It’s sad that it’s going away because it’s been a part of Kansas City,” he said. “People bring their kids here. I know I had waited on people, they had children. They grew up in front of me and became young teenagers.”
Gnirk said Chubby’s was always a melting pot of Kansas City people.
“It’s everybody,” he said. “It’s a cross-section of humanity.”
Regional manager Michael Scott said it’s tough and bittersweet to close the diner.
“It’s just been that one place that, you know — whether it rains, snows, sleet or shine — it was always open,” he said. “We stayed open, we’ve never shut down and it’s difficult for us to shut down for anything just because of what we do.”
As the clock passed 6 a.m. on Thursday, the pace slowed, with more empty tables and less raucous conversation to drown out the sounds of The Jackson 5 and REO Speedwagon through the jukebox. Gnirk said this marked an end of an era.
“It’s an institution,” he said.
Celisa Calacal is an intern at KCUR 89.3. You can reach her at @celisa_mia.