The building at 3141 Main Street – once home to Russell Florist – is now blossoming into The Russell, a new restaurant, bakery and catering outlet opening in May.
The Russell is a culinary collaboration between local photographer, graphic designer and chef Amante Domingo and Canadian culinary and cupcake entrepreneur Heather White. The duo signed the lease on this unique space last week.
Located next door to Gates Bar-B-Q, the building was chosen because it has the space and amenities needed for the pair to run a successful food business while still maintaining a timeless appeal tied to Kansas City’s past. Preserving the city's history is important to the building’s owner, Dick Keller, who will maintain his office upstairs from the new restaurant and catering kitchen.
“Dick Keller owns several buildings in the area, and he has always had a real vision for wanting to maintain the history and heritage of the buildings he owns while thoughtfully restoring them into functional places the community can use and enjoy,” Domingo says.
Several other entrepreneurs had looked at the former flower shop, which sat vacant for several years, but the partners believe it was their vision that ultimately appealed to their landlord. They want to create a quality locally-owned catering and restaurant business that will be open for breakfast and lunch, as well as the occasional catered dinner.
“We both have young families, so quality of life is important to us as we move forward building this business,” White says. “The plan is for us to start by booking caterings first as we finish out the space, then open the restaurant, market and bakery second.”
The partners met while working together on a project; when they realized they shared the same entrepreneurial spirit, they started talking about collaborating on their own business.
Domingo grew up on his family’s organic farm in St. Joseph, Missouri, selling produce to chefs at the farmers' market downtown. When he was a teenager, his family owned a small restaurant, which is where he got his first taste of restaurant life. From there, he worked his way up in various kitchens in Kansas City, from dishwasher to the line, at restaurants like Kona Grill on the Country Club Plaza. Restaurant jobs were a way to earn extra money at night while studying photography, web and graphic design by day.
“I hesitate on calling myself a chef because I do not consider myself the focus of this restaurant,” he says. “I’ll have a fantastic team in the kitchen helping me. Besides, any good chef knows the real celebrities in the food world are the growers and producers. We intend to highlight [them] at The Russell through the local ingredients we purchase, the food artisans we collaborate with and by simply having a menu that changes with the seasons.”
White grew up in British Columbia, and in 2002 started Cupcakes by Heather & Lori with her best friend, Lori Joyce. The business grew quickly into a sweet empire with 11 locations across British Columbia and Ontario, and the two friends also starred in their own reality show, Cupcake Girls. Their stores are known for uniquely delicious cupcakes made with quality ingredients in flavors like black sesame, mango and matcha green tea.
A little over two years ago, White moved to Kansas City with her husband and young son after her husband accepted a new job. She has kept her interest in her cupcake company in Canada, where she says she is in contact with her partner on the day-to-day business. “We bought back one of our franchisee-owned stores to make it a company store, and we are also rolling out a line of ice cream to pair with our cupcakes, so we have a lot of business to talk about right now,” she says.
White will head up the bakery inside of The Russell, using her baking knowledge and management skills to lead a small team that will create all the breads, cookies, cakes and – yes – cupcakes, for the restaurant and catering. Customers can also pick up special orders or shop the bakery. The market will offer a wide range of grab-and-go items, including boxed lunches and dinner kits.
The restaurant and bakery will be open from 8am to 5pm. In the morning, look for a light continental breakfast of coffee and pastries. Lunch will feature a fresh menu of soups, salads and sandwiches as well as several specials; the emphasis is on keeping the menu affordable.
The space itself is a little over 2,500 square feet, with plenty of seating for those who choose to stay and enjoy a meal. Down the line, Domingo and White plan to host ticketed themed dinners in the space.
Construction of the kitchen at The Russell is just beginning. At the heart of it will be a large wood-fired oven, similar to the kind made famous by Argentine chef Francis Mallmann. Domingo does not plan to install a stove, choosing to challenge himself to use only the wood-fired oven to create dishes for both catering and restaurant.
“I know what I am signing up for, and the way the stove will be designed is that I can drop racks down directly into the flames or pull them up to, say, let the fat from a roasting chicken drip over a pan of root vegetables below,” he said. “I am going to learn to use it for everything, and I am looking forward to the challenge.”
There is a full basement in the space that was likely once used as a cooler for the flowers, but the partners think it will eventually make a great wine cave, or a place to age cheese or charcuterie. They're thankful to their landlord for the opportunity to bring this building back to life as The Russell.
“Trust me, we plan to show our appreciation to Dick by naming a sandwich after him,” Domingo says. “That will happen.”
The Russell, 3141 Main St., Kansas City, Missouri, therussellonmain.com