JJ's restaurant re-opened Wednesday night for dinner in its new location in the West Plaza district of Kansas City, Mo., inside the Polsinelli Building at 900 W. 48th Place.
It's been a work in progress for more than 11 months. When a natural gas explosion destroyed the original location in February 2013, it was questionable if the popular meeting spot would ever recover.
In the days following the explosion that left server Megan Cramer dead, JJ’s co-owner Jimmy Frantze couldn’t even bring himself to look at the building.
“I’ve had this restaurant for 28 years, and it was a big part of my life," Frantze told Elana Gordon in 2013. "That’s why I’m facing this way, not facing that way because I don’t even want to look at it.”
At Wednesday night's public opening, Frantze was looking nervous. But he was still happy that his restaurant is back up and running.
“The first few months were absolutely no fun," Frantze said. "But you can’t do any better than having great friends, and I've got great friends. ”
It’s been a long road to recovery for the restaurant, and, for a time, it wasn’t clear if it would ever return. Dave Frantze, Jimmy’s brother and JJ’s co-owner, told Jimmy to take things slowly after the explosion.
“The only advice I gave him was to wait about six months," Frantze said "And right at the end of the six months, Jimmy said, 'You know, I think we really ought to do this again.'"
For Jimmy and the entire staff, the real challenge was keeping the same sense of belonging to the JJ’s family that so many employees and regulars love. Server Kevin Fossland said that he’s keeping his coworkers and friends in mind before anything else.
“It’s not just about the food, it’s not just about the restaurant, it’s about the people," Fossland said. "Megan [Cramer] is definitely on my mind constantly in that regard.”
Cramer was clearly on the minds of all the staff members Wednesday, and a plaque in her memory is going to be hung on the wall in the new restaurant.
Once customers got into the restaurant, it wasn’t long before they went back to their old habits. Regular customer John Williams and a few friends had their favorite drinks in hand as they talked about how much the restaurant meant to them.
“You didn’t have to make plans to go there, because somebody in the group was always going to be there," Williams said. "Somebody was going to be at JJ’s.”
Though many of the people at the reopening kept commenting about how the new JJ’s was everything they’d hoped for, some of the regulars remained unconvinced. Rudy Langer, who frequented the old JJ’s, believes that the customer base of the new restaurant is going to be fundamentally different due to the new building’s modern flashiness.
“I think there’ll be a whole new crowd," Langer said. "Some of the old regulars, they’re not going to be coming here."
Despite some skepticism, it was hard to deny the infectious feeling of old friends coming together again. Sandra Irving is a long time JJ’s acolyte who was at the restaurant's soft opening on Tuesday, and the public opening on Wednesday. She said that everything felt exactly the same.
“You look at the floors, the way the bar is set up, the L shape, it’s exactly the way the old JJ’s was," Irving said. "I have a feeling we’ll back here many, many nights.”
Though JJ’s isn’t taking reservations until the staff settles in, the restaurant and bar will be open for dinner through the weekend and lunch starting Monday.