The Buzz of the 'Burbs
Westport, The Plaza, Power & Light … and Rosana Square?
The retail hub at the northwest corner of 119th and Metcalf is, at first glance, a fairly typical Johnson County kind of place. There’s a Price Chopper, an All About Fitness, a Nill Bros. Sports, a Hobby Lobby.
But in their midst — in Rosana’s northwest corner — is a multi-venue food-drink-and-entertainment oasis that aims to rival its better-known counterparts in Kansas City.
One Block South, the vision of entrepreneur and industry veteran Shawn McClenny, is, as of Dec. 22, complete. That’s the day Milieu, a French fusion restaurant, opened.
Milieu holds down the right end of One Block South’s lineup. It joins (from left), Kanza Hall, a 10,000-square-foot club for country, rock and blues bands; Red 8, an upscale pool hall and pizza parlor; and Fuel, a sports bar and grill.
Milieu replaces McClenny’s Raoul’s Velvet Room, which opened in 1999 and closed at the end of 2011. Fuel, which opened in 2004, was joined in April 2012 by Kanza Hall and in August by Red 8.
With One Block South, McClenny is betting on the whole being greater than the sum of its parts.
“Location is everything, and I’m trying to create my own location, that entertainment district that Johnson County doesn’t have.”
McClenny says he doesn’t know of another U.S. suburb that has attempted to replicate a downtown-like entertainment district.
But he believes the timing is right. When it comes to Kansas City and entertainment, things go in cycles, and McClenny believes JoCo’s turn has come around again.
“When’s Raoul’s opened, you also had the opening of Bristol (Seafood Grill), J. Alexander’s and other stuff in Johnson County — there was a good synergy,” McClenny says. “Then, in 2004 to 2005, Kona Grill, Mi Cocina and Blonde opened on the Plaza. Then, five years ago, it was Power & Light.”
Take Kanza Hall. With Lawrence’s venerable Granada expected to close soon, it opens the door wide for Kanza, which can hold close to 1,000 people. One of McClenny’s top priorities in 2013 will be booking regional and national country, rock, blues and other acts for the venue.
As for Red 8, McClenny thinks of it as “not your dad’s pool hall.”
“You don’t have to put your quarters up there and fight over tables, and people won’t be intimidated by pool experts,” he says. “It’s an upscale place. You pay by the hour, and there’s a full cocktail selection. It’s a good place for couples.”
At Fuel, meanwhile, McClenny is de-emphasizing the biker bar theme and focusing more on sports for the TV-lined bar and grill. Fuel also has a stage for bands.
And with Milieu, McClenny wanted to create a French restaurant that didn’t scream “French restaurant.”
“When people think of French restaurants, they think of white tablecloths and three- to five-course meals,” he said. “My question was ‘What do they eat for lunch in France?’ I wanted a place that served great food but was more laid back.”
Milieu also has a nightclub, which on Thursdays, Fridays and Saturdays features DJs like Mike Scott and DJ Rich B. The music they play has more of a European club feel than most Kansas City-area venues, McClenny says.
With decades of experience in all corners of the dining-and-club world, it’s hard to imagine someone better prepared than McClenny to make One Block South a hit.
After delivering pies for Lawrence legend Pyramid Pizza while earning a psychology degree at the University of Kansas, the Topeka native moved to KC, where he DJ’d and managed a country bar.
In the ’90s, McClenny moved to Chicago, where he ran NFL Hall of Famer Walter Payton’s chain of bars. McClenny and wife, Carolina, moved to Overland Park later in the decade to raise new daughter Elle, and McClenny took over management of Bristol and J. Gilbert’s Wood-Fired Steaks and Seafood.
That took him up to 1999 and the fulfillment of his dream of owning a restaurant, Raoul’s.
McClenny boasts quite the hipster resume, but he’s the first to admit he no longer has his finger on the pulse. For that he has his daughter, now a KU freshman.
“She’s my lead researcher,” he says. “I don’t have time to stay up on the trends like she does. She’ll play something for me and say, ‘Dad, this is what everyone’s listening to.’”
Carolina McClenny also has played a big role in the creation of One Block South. She, Elle and Shawn worked together on the design of Milieu, and many of the decorating touches in the restaurant are hers.
Now that the last of his four venues is up and running, McClenny is glad he can finally relax — at least a little.
“We’ve been working on this whole thing for two and a half years,” he says. “Working 10-hour days is like a vacation for me. I told my managers, ‘If any of you talks about opening something else in the next year, you’re fired.’”
portrait photo: 8183 Studio
interior photos: Alicia Soliz