That's enough sentiment, though. I'm much more excited about the new places going up, particularly a hamburger-and-frozen-custard emporium! I'm ready to say "Hey ya!" to Culver's Frozen Custard and ButterBurgers, slated to open in April on the site of the long-vacant Steak & Ale restaurant at 7953 State Line Road. That decrepit, Tudor-style building, which last housed a place called J. Riley's, was finally torn down last month. Now the foundation has been poured for the Wisconsin-based Culver's first urban outpost in Missouri (there are locations in Springfield, Fenton and St. Charles); closer to town is the seven-month-old Culver's in Olathe (18685 West 151st Street).
A friend of mine in Omaha raves about Culver's. He insists the place serves the best burgers he's ever eaten but also calls it "fast food for yuppies who drive BMWs and wouldn't be caught dead eating at McDonald's." That's an overstatement, of course, because no Culver's franchisee would dare call the twenty-year-old chain "fast food."
"It's 'fast casual,' much more like Panera Bread than McDonald's," says Paul Clause, the former Los Angeles-based stockbroker who moved to Kansas City last year to open his first Culver's. Before he got the green light to build his Culver's on State Line Road, Clause had to complete a sixteen-week training class. "We did everything from clean toilets to flip burgers -- but not on the same day," Clause says. The restaurants sell freshly made frozen custard and a variety of sandwiches, including cooked-to-order sirloin-blend burgers served on lightly buttered, toasted buns.
The fast-growing chain's 233 restaurants (50 more open this year) are nearly all owner-operated and offer daily specials ranging from tacos to pulled-pork barbecue, in addition to burgers and malts. Clause laughs when I point out that one of the city's busiest McDonald's is just a block away.
"We'll pick their pockets!" Clause says. "Just wait."
Wait? I'm ready to slide into a ButterBurger right now!