Thursday, June 10, 2010

Where Everybody Knew Your Name...

Regulars, staff remember 30 years of good food and friendship at Bill & Tiney’s
By Seann McAnally

For 30 years, the family staff of Bill & Tiney’s Restaurant has served up a lot of down-home cooking. Ask the regular customers, and they’ll tell you the restaurant has also served up a lot of love. 

Owner Dan Holder recently made the tough decision to close the family-style restaurant, which has been a south KC landmark on Hickman Mills Drive for three decades.  

“We would have started our 31st year in October,” Dan said as he looked wistfully around the restaurant he’s called home for most of his adult life.
Bill & Tiney’s will close its doors for good on Sunday, June 12 – if the food lasts. 

“It’s about saying goodbye to people who are like family to us,” Dan said.
And that’s not easy, he added. 

“This place has been such a mainstay of our lives for so long,” he said. “We don’t really think of people as customers, but as family. It’s like saying, ‘goodbye until I don’t know when.’” 

Dan literally grew up in the restaurant business. His mom, Tiney, used to wait tables while she was pregnant with him. Before that, she’d been working in restaurants since she was 13, and is still going strong today, some 60 years later. 

“I like to say I’m 49 years old but I’ve been in the restaurant business 50 years,” Dan said. 

He opened Bill & Tiney’s with him mom and his dad, Bill, in 1972. They moved to the current location – a former showroom for an auto dealer – in 1979 and opened in 1980. 

Since that time, it’s been a second home to the Holder family.

It’s also the quintessential “family business,” with everyone pitching in. 
There’s even a little room in the back, within view of the kitchen, where two generations of children have played while their parents worked. 

Bill passed away in 1996, and since then Tiney and Dan have kept it going more-or-less on their own. 

Dan works full-time in the grocery business as well, and he’s been putting much of what he makes back into the restaurant for too long, he said. 

“About 10 years ago, they closed off both sides of Hickman Mills Drive,” Dan said. “So if you didn’t know where it was, you couldn’t get here. There’s been almost no drive-by traffic or new customers.” 

Over time, despite a loyal family of customers, the trickling off of traffic has just been too much for the restaurant to bear, financially. 

But Dan is philosophical about it. 

“Sometimes one door has to close before another can open,” he said. 

As for feelings of family, Bill & Tiney’s regulars feel the same way. 

Julie Larimer and her son Jacob visited the restaurant last Friday to spend some time with fellow members of the Bill & Tiney’s family. 

“Everybody is close,” Larimer said as Jacob played around her feet. “You get to know all the regulars. Jacob’s been coming here since he was in my belly.” 

Bill and Betty Hartman playfully disagreed on how long they’ve been eating at Bill & Tiney’s, but they agree that it’s one of their favorite places to go. 

“We like the food, and also the social atmosphere and the people,” Betty said. “It’s a place you can come and make new friends.” 

“And we can sit here as long as we like,” Bill said with a mischievous gleam in his eye. 

“That’s right,” Dan chimed in. “We don’t charge by the hour.”

At a corner table awash in afternoon sunlight, the Goering family – Ted, Joyce and their daughters Andrea and Erika – remembered the first time they came to the restaurant about 12 years ago. On that day, as the Goerings walked in, Tiney got the phone call that her granddaughter, Dan’s daughter Ashley, had been killed in a car accident. 

“We feel very close to them because of that,” Ted said. His family kept coming to the restaurant, and eventually he and Dan struck up a friendship based on their mutual interest in paranormal phenomena. Ted’s cartoon, “The Real Truth About UFOs,” hangs on the restaurant wall along with family photos and other memorabilia. 

Ted’s daughter Erika, now in college, said she’s been coming to the restaurant since she was little. 

“I like to joke it’s like Cheers,” she said, “where everybody knows your name.”
Her mom, Joyce, said she likes the quiet, laid-back, friendly atmosphere. 

“We come sometimes just to sit and relax and have coffee,” she said. “Sometimes the big chain restaurants are too loud. We like to come here and just chill.” 

The Goerings, Hartmans and Larimer all said they also like Tiney’s cooking. She specializes in down-home-style vittles like biscuits and gravy, ham and beans, meatloaf, and her famous bread pudding. 

But don’t ask Tiney for the secret family recipes – they’re all in her head. 

“I just do it the way I’ve been doing it for years and years,” Tiney said. “I never write anything down. Once a friend asked for my chili recipe, and I told him I’d have to wait until the next time I cooked it and write down how I did it.”

When her friend finally made “her” chili, Tiney asked him how it was.
“He said, ‘it doesn’t taste as good as yours,’” she said with pride and a touch of humor. 

It’s that love of both food and people that has kept Tiney coming back to cook and wait tables for six decades. 

“I love people, and I love to feed people,” she said. 

But after next Sunday, Tiney will take up a long-overdue and much-deserved retirement. 

“I don’t think she’ll be bored,” Dan said, gesturing at Tiney feeding her great-grandson, Dominic, while her great-granddaughter Kaydence happily munched away at her lunch. Tiney said she’ll keep busy helping Dan care for his grandchildren and just relaxing and enjoying life. 

“For 60 years she’s been doing this,” Dan said, watching Tiney work from across the room, love and admiration apparent on his face. “It’s time.” 

But Tiney won’t stop cooking, much to the delight of her great-granddaughter.
“Her french fries and omelets are really good,” Kaydence said, giving a thumbs-up sign – a compliment that put a big smile on Tiney’s face.  

Dan said almost everything in the restaurant except for a few keepsakes is for sale, including antique bar and stools, kitchen equipment, tables, chairs, and whatnot. 

As he walked through the restaurant, chatting with customers and playing with his grandkids, Dan said he’d miss it. 

“It’s like moving away from family,” he said. 

But he’s also excited about the future. He talked about a new pool he’s installing in his yard for the grandkids to swim in this summer.
“We’ve got a good thing going,” he said as he looked at his family. 

One of Dan’s favorite sayings is “Aloha Shalom.” 

“One is a Pacific Islander word and the other is Jewish, but they both mean the same thing,” he said. “Hello, I love you until I meet you again.” 

He’s been saying that a lot lately.

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