I knew Lidia’s Kansas City had opened its doors many years ago. I knew that Lidia Bastianich herself had selected the unique Crossroads location. But until recently, I didn’t realize how pioneering this decision had been.
I was fortunate enough to join a select group of individuals who have been essential in the long-time success of Lidia’s Kansas City for the grand opening of their new private event space—The Terrazza. While we eagerly awaited the generous five-course meal that was sure to wow, a few honored guests spoke. Among them was Suzie Aron, owner of Aron Real Estate and president of the Crossroads Community Association. She told a story about a sad building on the backside of Union Station that was being used for railroad storage 17 years ago—the Freight House. Despite the forlorn building’s state, they showed the property to Bastianich and she saw potential.
From previous conversations with Bastianich, I knew that she didn’t want to play it safe and develop her restaurant in a suburban landscape. She wanted a location with character, she wanted a spot that screamed “Kansas City.”
As we lavishly dined on butternut squash ravioli with sage and orange brown butter sauce, braised flatiron beef with Gorgonzola potatoes and a tangerine olive oil torta with blood orange sherbet in the gorgeous new Terrazza, I started thinking about what the Crossroads district must have been like when Lidia’s first moved in.
In 1998, Union Station, having sat empty and neglected since the ‘80s, was still a year away from completing renovations. The pedestrian bridge that unites the Crossroads and Union Station wouldn’t be added until 2003. Most of the restaurants, galleries and lofts that we now so closely identify with the Crossroads had yet to be conceived and the historic Freight House that now houses three award-winning restaurants—Lidia’s Kansas City, Jack Stack Barbecue and Grünauer—had fallen into severe disrepair. Had it not been for a group of investors led by Dan Clothier, the Freight House would have most likely been demolished.
Becoming more distinctly divided into east and west sides, the Crossroads district continues to pump new blood into the heart of Kansas City. Vacant warehouses are being converted into living spaces, eyesores are transforming into galleries, buildings that have been dark for 20 years are suddenly alight with activity.
Without losing its “rough around the edges” charm, the east Crossroads has recently embraced an exciting number of businesses with even more in the works. Joining long-time local favorite, Grinders, is Thou Mayest Coffee Roasters and Border Brewing Company. Soon to follow will be Howard’s, a café, grocer and catering company, Messenger Coffee Co., Ibis Bakery’s second location, Double Shift Brewing Co. and possibly Novel—now located in West Side.
Would all this have happened if Lidia’s had decided to build elsewhere? Perhaps. But that doesn’t diminish the bravery in showing a sad, abandoned property to the likes of Lidia Bastinach or the courage she showed in saying, “Yes. This is it.”