It would be easy to dismiss The Grille at Park Place as a chain. The
sleek, booth-lined dining room and streamlined American contemporary
fare menu feel familiar. Tie-clad servers work together to expedite food
and check in on tables.
That feeling is the result of five months of planning by co-owners Mitch
Kerns and Kevin Clayton. They want you to feel like you know The
Grille, which opened this June. And then they want to show how
contemporary American fare can be done better with fresh ingredients.
“We’re an independently owned restaurant,” co-owner Mitch Kern says. “It
may be a menu you’ve seen before, but our food is prepared fresh every
Kerns will tell you that he’s been in the restaurant business for 50
years. He started at the Glenwood Manor and Convention Center. His
father was the general manager, in charge of food and beverage, and
Kerns was a 13-year-old kid delivering room service to the Kansas City
Chiefs’ players that used to stay in the hotel on the nights before a
game at Arrowhead Stadium.
The food and beverage world suited him. He owned and operated nightclubs
and was the third franchisee in the nation for TGI Fridays. By his
count, The Grille marks his 25th restaurant, but this is the concept
he’s been thinking about for the past decade.
“I’ve had it in mind to do American fare of this type since Houston’s at
95th and Metcalf closed,” Kerns says. “It’s classic, contemporary
American fare with some twists on it. We don’t want to be a trendy
All Kerns needed to execute the idea was the right location and the
right chef. The former Mestizo space in Park Place became available and
shortly thereafter Kerns was introduced to his future co-owner and
executive chef Kevin Clayton through a mutual friend.
“We’re about 30 years apart, but we saw the restaurant in the same way,” Kerns says.
Clayton grew up in Overland Park and graduated from the culinary program
at Johnson County Community College. He spent four years at Lidia’s
Kansas City before taking a job with J. Alexander’s. Over the next
decade, he served as executive chef helping to open restaurants on the
East Coast. But Clayton was eager to return to his hometown and the idea
of building out a contemporary American menu was appealing to him.
“It was a concept that I wanted to do and was familiar with executing,” Clayton says.
The partners made a few small, but key changes to the space. They
removed the tortilla station and took out the freezer. [The only freezer
in The Grille is a small icebox for holding ice cream.]
“For us, it’s about everything being fresh,” Clayton says.
Earlier this year, the two men laid out the menu on notecards that
stretched 30-feet long. They drew inspiration from across the country.
Their hot dog special – they offer chili dogs on Saturdays – was
inspired by a Palm Beach restaurant that offers Kosher hot dogs on the
“We sell a ton of them,” Kerns says.
Their seafood offerings from market fish to Oysters Rockefeller stems
from Clayton’s time in Florida. The Grille’s fish is flown in over
night, often after Clayton has consulted with the captain of a boat
about the catch of the day.
They also rooted their menu in the Midwest. The restaurant features
Kerns’ espresso-rubbed ribeye, duroc pork chops from Iowa topped with an
apple chutney sauce and served over a bed of mashed potatoes, and their
bread is delivered six days a week by Bagel Works Bread Company in
Kansas City, Kansas.
Over the first five months, The Grille has begun to develop a regular
clientele that come on Monday nights for the white bean and ham soup
(there’s a daily chef’s special and soup special) and the deviled eggs
with sugar-crusted bacon and a sweet pickle relish.
In the coming months, The Grille will likely introduce a rooftop menu of
hot drinks and snacks for when the ice rink opens. They’re also adding
Spanish wines and shifting the cocktail specials toward fall warmers.
They’re currently playing around with rye whiskey cocktails and infused
spirits that will be on the bar top.
The heart of The Grille is a massive 800-pound, white marble-topped
table that sits just in the front of the open kitchen. It’s there that
you’ll find Kerns or Clayton every day and night of service. Each plate
is presented to the dining room on that table before the servers swoop
in to carry it to its destination.
“We have a show kitchen,” Clayton says. “You can see me working. You can
see the cooks working. My hand touches every plate before it goes out
to the dining room.”
“We do everything,” Kerns adds. “We’re the handymen and the HR
department. But the thing that sets us apart is that you’ll always see
us serving real, fresh food.”