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Is the Plaza's flagship burger business done well or, well, done?

The craft-burger business on the Plaza faces an uncertain future.



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"Groupon is not a moneymaker," Peralta says.

Blanc offered Groupons in June and September 2010, selling about 8,000 and 14,000, respectively. By that fall, mention of the Little Rock location had vanished from Blanc's website, though Circle had opened the Burger Box concession stand at Arrowhead Stadium, in time for the Chiefs' new season.

On January 1, 2011, B:2 closed. Within a few days, the guts of B:2 — kitchen equipment, tables, computers — would be repurposed in Nebraska.

Blanc in Omaha, with 3,700 square feet of restaurant in the city's Midtown Crossing development, opened at the end of that month with a chef from the Plaza and a sous chef from the Leawood operation. While the restaurant struggled to find the right vendors — particularly a bakery that could duplicate Farm to Market's buns — the initial feedback was positive, and the space reportedly was on track to gross almost a million dollars in its first year.

"We brought them to Omaha," says Ken Cook, president of East Campus Realty, the Mutual of Omaha subsidiary that owns Midtown Crossing. "Omaha is a burger town, and this was a different spin on it."

In May 2011, Blanc on the Plaza sold 20,150 coupons at $10 for $20 worth of "gourmet burgers and drinks." But that increase in Groupon sales led to a dip in staff morale.

"Customers came in wanting to argue what the Groupon was about," says Evans, who was then an assistant manager at the Plaza restaurant. "It was the worst clientele. People would calculate exactly how much they had to spend and then they wouldn't tip." A Facebook group popped up, dedicated to registering complaints from Blanc alumni.

There was a bigger worry than social-media sniping, though: Agia Properties had filed suit against Circle for nonpayment of rent. The property at issue was an office space in Prairie Village's Somerset Plaza development.

In September 2011, Arkansas finally got its upscale burger shop, except it wasn't a Blanc. It's called Big Orange and it's not part of the Circle group.

"It's our color scheme. It's our fixtures that we had to leave behind," Peralta says. "Maybe we were going a little too fast. ... Jenifer and I never had the money to get it open."

Blanc's partnership was falling apart. Eans, Wilson and McMullin all left the company in October 2011. The Peraltas bought back Wilson's 1-percent share. (Wilson now manages the Rusty Horse Tavern, in Parkville.) Eans and McMullin remain what Peralta calls "economic interest holders": They have money and ownership stakes in the business but no other connection. All three declined to comment for this story.

That same month, Ernesto took over daily operations on the Plaza, and Jenifer began managing the Leawood location. He says he didn't know until then that his company was struggling.

"If you have a pool full of water and the pool is full, you don't see the cracks," Ernesto Peralta says. "But all of a sudden, you're losing water and you start seeing cracks. Sales were not where they were when we opened the business. And we still had the same expenses. It wasn't until we jumped in that we saw the cracks. We lost money last year."

Problems persisted into the new year. In January, Blanc left Arrowhead Specialty Meats — which had been supplying Blanc with a custom grind of sirloin and beef shoulder since Blanc's early days in Leawood — for Scavuzzo's. Arrowhead confirms that the account has been settled but won't comment further.

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