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Café Allegro’s Steve Cole takes over as food and beverage director at the Downtown Marriott

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I've known restaurateur Steve Cole for two decades, dating back to when he owned Café Allegro. At the time, it was Kansas City's most glamorous bistro. In fact, in the late 1980s, I occasionally worked for Cole as a freelance waiter when his restaurant operated the upscale concession areas at the Lyric Theatre. Mary Simpson, now a regional director for Rare Hospitality, was Café Allegro's manager in those days, and I could never put enough starch in my aprons to please her.

But after Cole sold Café Allegro in 2002, he didn't jump right back into the restaurant game. He did some consulting work for other restaurants but was best-known for handling commercial real-estate deals for restaurant and hospitality locations.

Last month, Cole took on a new challenge when veteran hotel operator Kevin Pistilli hired him as the food and beverage director for the Kansas City Downtown Marriott. Before taking the job, Cole had been working as a consultant on various projects with Pistilli. That included creating potential new concepts for the historic Muehlebach Hotel's long-closed Rendezvous Room and its somewhat forlorn coffee shop, the Pam Pam Room.

I've never been shy about expressing my overwhelmingly negative opinion of the Pam Pam Room — or the equally awful Lilly's Restaurant in the Marriott across the street.

"We haven't addressed the future of the Pam Pam yet," Cole said. "But Lilly's is definitely going to be changed. It's part of the major renovation planned for the Marriott lobby next spring."

That enormous lobby will be reconfigured with what Cole calls a dramatic bar — a gathering space for espresso and a light breakfast in the mornings, then a "day-night" bar serving stylish lunches and dinners. As for Lilly's, Cole promised an entirely new concept, a new name, different food and an outdoor terrace.

Cole said he might let me be one of the first guests to eat breakfast in the new Lilly's — or whatever it's called — when it opens in 2009. At least I won't have to wear a starched apron.

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