Each year, we honor the seasoned pros who continue to push the envelope in the local food-and-drink scene, from restaurateurs to artisans to hospitality pros.
Bo Nelson, Thou Mayest, Thee Outpost and Café Equinox
Talk about a comeback. At the end of last year, Bo Nelson closed his extremely popular East Crossroads coffee shop and cocktail bar, Thou Mayest, and was left with only his coffee roasting company of the same name. Six months later, the coffee entrepreneur opened Café Equinox, a botanically inspired café inside Family Tree Nursery’s Shawnee, Kansas, location and bought the Quay Coffee locations in the River Market and the Nelson-Atkins Museum of Art, which he recently announced he will rebrand as Thou Mayest coffee shops. Nelson also recently opened Thee Outpost in the Crossroads. The 2,000-square-foot coffee shop located inside Collective EX offers Thou Mayest coffees and teas alongside a thoughtful assortment of pastries and snacks, marking the brand’s hotly anticipated return to the neighborhood. Thee Outpost is a unique opportunity for Nelson to test a smaller, more nimble coffee bar that can fit inside other spaces – a concept he plans to replicate.
Jill Cockson, Swordfish Tom’s
To say Jill Cockson stays on top of her game is an understatement. She’s constantly gathering new information about spirits – the foundation of her cocktails-only bar, Swordfish Tom’s, in the Crossroads – but what might be most remarkable about Cockson is her commitment to hospitality and ambiance. She is a sought-after speaker at industry conferences where she discusses hospitality and small business profitability, and at her own establishment, she politely asks that guests turn off their cellphones and keep conversations relatively quiet in the hope that Swordfish Tom’s will provide a space to actually connect. On your first visit to the bar, if the menu looks intimidating or you don’t see something that interests you, Cockson (or one of her expertly trained staff) will happily create something on the spot that is more to your liking, with all the flourish and flavor of one of her signature drinks.
Andy Rieger & Ryan Maybee, J. Rieger & Co.
With the opening of the J. Rieger & Co.'s flagship distillery in the East Bottoms this summer, business partners Andy Rieger and Ryan Maybee finally got the happy ending Kansas City was rooting for. In 2014, when Maybee contacted Rieger and proposed the idea of resurrecting Rieger’s great-great-great-grandfather’s whiskey business, the pair couldn’t have imagined such success. The distillery, featuring a shiny new tasting room, two distinct bar concepts, a 16-seat private dining room, event spaces, a museum, a gift shop and even a 40-foot slide, represents more than the brand’s ability to triple its production; it’s what Rieger and Maybee hope will be the beginning of a resurgence of the entire neighborhood. They encourage other entrepreneurs to open businesses in the East Bottoms – an area the duo have nicknamed Electric Park after the 1899 amusement park and beer garden that was built here by the Heim brothers. The more reasons to spend the night out in the neighborhood, shopping, drinking and having a blast, the better.
Pam Liberda, Waldo Thai Place
The Liberda family has been serving quality Thai food in Kansas City for a long time – chef Pam Liberda’s mother-in-law, Ann, opened the original Thai Place almost 30 years ago. But Pam and her husband, Ted, wanted to rock the boat with their next restaurant; Waldo Thai Place debuted in 2018 as a result. Combining her northern-style Thai dishes with his Bangkok-style cooking, they’re teaching patrons about the regional differences within Thai cuisine and expanding the palates of their fans, both new and old. Bartender Darrell Loo adds another layer of interest and flavor to Waldo Thai Place with his craft cocktails, which unfailingly complement the fresh, herbaceous notes of Liberda's specialties. In her own kitchen, serving her own creations, she's finally gained the same confidence in her food that we already have.
Christopher Elbow, Christopher Elbow Chocolates, Glacé Artisan Ice Cream and Fairway Creamery
Christopher Elbow has proven that he can master any confection he puts his mind to. A modern-day Willy Wonka, Elbow may have started his career as a fine-dining chef, making chocolate mignardises at The American, but he quickly became one of Kansas City’s favorite chocolatiers with the launch of Christopher Elbow Chocolates in 2003, which now has retail stores in Kansas City and San Francisco. Using similar sweet-and-savory flavor inspiration, fresh ingredients and a chef-driven approach, Elbow then focused his attention on ice cream and opened Glacé Artisan Ice Cream on Main Street in 2010. In 2017, Elbow introduced a line of single-origin chocolate bars to the mix. Up until this point, he had been buying chocolate from a distributor; this was his chance to make chocolate from cacao beans himself. This year, we discovered his latest passion: At Fairway Creamery in Fairway, Kansas, Elbow has taken up donut-making, seeking advice from acclaimed New York City chef Wylie Dufresne, who owns Du’s Donuts in Brooklyn. All of Elbow’s creations, from boxed chocolates and bars to hand-dipped cones stuffed with Glacé ice cream to from-scratch donuts, have finally come together under one roof. Fairway Creamery is a cheerful concept that satisfies the city’s sweet tooth morning, noon and night. What will Elbow think up next?