So last week I got the chance to eat at The American Restaurant where I had a pretty darn good meal (read my review here. I actually used the word supercalifragilisticexpealidocious.) And while Chef Debbie Gold was the star of the evening, there someone else whose company I found very enjoyable: Mister Willie, who has tended bar at The American from the day it opened thirty-five years ago. In fact, he was handpicked by the owners for the position even before the restaurant opened.
Willie is everything you would expect a man who had worked thirty-five years in one of Kansas City’s finest dining establishments to be: calm, courteous, patient, and quick with a story. He was more than game for the challenge of keeping my water glass full.
When we weren’t sitting and listening to the piano player fill the restaurant with soft melodies, he and I talked about food and life. He told me how he taught himself to cook and where to buy a deep fried turkey. He told me about his grandkids. All his grandkids.
We talked about the twelve to fifteen chefs (by his recollection) who had run the kitchen since it opened (he gave thumbs up to Chef Gold) and we talked about the interior design of the restaurant. He assured me that The American looks now how it did when it opened and that it would look the same fifty years from now.
Chef Gold taught me about lamb belly, molecular gastromy, and ramps. Willie taught me about the restaurant’s soul. I am deeply grateful to both.
I don’t think there are many Willies left. Do you anyone who has worked in the same place for the last thirty-five years? How about someone who has worked at the same place six nights per week from the afternoon until the late hours of the night?
No, probably not many Willies left. But for now, you, too, can meet Willie and shake his hand. He’ll serve you with a kind word and he’ll hum to the piano whether he realizes it or not. In all the glamor, finery, and great food that is The American, Willie will be at the top of the steps, keeping people’s drink glasses full and their faces smiling.
And despite the spectacular view, when next I go to The American, I’ll be sorely tempted to take my seat at the bar instead of at the table so that I can talk some more with Mister Willie.