Friday, January 27, 2017

Local caterer ties the knot on consistency


by Mary Wilson, mwilson@jcadvocate.com

 If you’ve attended a banquet, wedding reception, chamber luncheon or corporate event in the Kansas City area where food was served, chances are you’ve tasted Affordable Elegance’s food. In 1997, Greg and Dee-Dee Stokes rented space in a building in Raymore and combined their talents to begin what is now a nationally-recognized operation.

With Dee-Dee’s background in catering and Greg’s background in the kitchen, the pair realized after working together on a job that they should be partners. After their first event, the two had their first date and were married six months later.

“We always know the anniversary of our first date because it was a Cinco de Mayo party,” said Dee-Dee. “The client wanted an on-site fajita bar, which was way out of my league, so Greg and I partnered on it. We went out for drinks afterward, and that was that.”

Working in restaurants since he was a teen, Greg began washing dishes and worked his way through different positions at a variety of restaurants, learning the ropes as he went along. Working as Affordable Elegance’s head chef, Greg says that his favorite thing to make is good food.

Affordable Elegance provides custom catering for all occasions, as their tagline suggests. The Stokeses tell their employees that a fringe benefit of working for them is that while they are able to eat a lot of really good food, they also have the opportunity to make people happy.

“We talk about offering brown-bags to black-tie,” said Dee-Dee. “Though, we’ve never really done brown bags, we have done a white bag, and a lot of black-ties. We never worry about whether or not the food will be good. We’ve got it down now, it just doesn’t happen. We can go out confident that everyone will be happy at the end of the day.”

A jack-of-all-food-trades, Greg offers clients the flexibility to customize menus for each event. Affordable Elegance is also a full-service catering business. Dee-Dee explains that they can provide as little or as much as the clients need.

“Some bridal clients just need us to do the food. They might have a venue that provides linens and bar service, or an Aunt Sally that makes cakes. We can help with the food,” said Dee-Dee. “Other clients may need all of those things, and we can be a one-stop shop for them.”

For six consecutive years, Affordable Elegance has been named as one of TheKnot.com’s Best of Weddings vendors, and is included in the Best of Weddings Hall of Fame. The Knot Best of Weddings 2017 provides a “by brides, for brides” guide to the top wedding professionals across the country and is a supplier for selecting the best-of-the-best wedding resources.

“There are not very many jobs out there where almost every day, someone tells you how good you are,” said Dee-Dee. “But, that happens with us. It keeps us motivated and keeps us coming back and doing what we love to do.”

At Affordable Elegance, they pride themselves on consistency. Dee-Dee believes that is why clients return, and that is why they have maintained five-star reviews from their brides. Their business receives inquiries from people through TheKnot.com each day.

“On-time, every time. Good food, every time,” said Dee-Dee. “If you ordered chicken spiedini this month, and a few months from now you order it again, it’s going to be the same. While consistency doesn’t sound very sexy or exciting, it is important. People will stop visiting certain restaurants because of inconsistency. It’s our job to remain the same.”

Affordable Elegance employs around a dozen full-time staff, and a number of part-timers. Nearly six years ago, the couple opened Gregory’s Sunday Brunch. Open from 9 a.m. to 2 p.m. each Sunday, the brunch offers a buffet of breakfast and lunch items, including a made-to-order omelet bar, salad bar, homemade pastries, bananas foster French toast and chocolate chip bread pudding.

“I say our brunch is the best-kept secret in Kansas City,” said Greg. “We try to give our guests a good meal at a fair price, and that’s what our catering business is modeled after, as well.”

Because of the size of the Raymore restaurant, Gregory’s can accommodate larger groups up to 200 people, and the space is also available for special events and private parties throughout the week.

“People remember food, fellowship and fun,” said Dee-Dee. “Good food and plenty of it, fellowship with those we care about and a fun environment. I tend to think whether you have long linen or short linen, a square table or a round table, none of those things is as important as food, fellowship and fun.”

Greg and Dee-Dee Stokes also have a heart for community service, and give back whenever feasible. Food leftovers that are not given to clients are donated to a local ministry to help serve a community meal. Last year, over 5,000 meals were served with food Affordable Elegance provided to that ministry.

“We are blessed to have this business, and we make giving a priority,” said Dee-Dee. “We try as hard as we can to meet budgets realistically, and we donate to auctions and other civic events.”

Affordable Elegance, located at 407 W Pine Street in Raymore, can be contacted at 816-331-4528 or at www.affordableelegancecatering.com. Gregory’s Sunday Brunch, at 401 W Pine Street in Raymore, can be found at www.brunchkc.com.

“I do this because I love what I do,” said Greg. “If I didn’t love it, I wouldn’t do it. If I wanted to go dig ditches for a living, that’s what I’d go and do. But I’m here because I love doing this every day.”

Tuesday, January 24, 2017

Grandview Firefighter Currently Under Investigation for Illegal Activity


Breaking News: The Jackson County Advocate has confirmed that a warrant was served on Friday, January 20, against a Grandview firefighter. According to the City of Grandview, the employee is on leave pending an investigation. Several weeks ago, our news office received a tip from a community member regarding some illegal activity out of Grandview Fire Station #3, located at 5501 Harry Truman Drive. Our editor immediately contacted authorities, who have been investigating the case. We are working to confirm the name of the city employee, the illegal actvities involved, as well as any impact this has had on operations and will provide updates as information becomes available.

Thursday, January 19, 2017

Incident at GHS Prompts Safety Discussions Throughout District


by Mary Wilson, mwilson@jcadvocate.com

Grandview High School was under lockdown for the morning hours of Wednesday, January 11, after a firearm reportedly went off in a locker room. According to a statement from the Grandview C-4 School District, at approximately 8:55 a.m., there were reports that an object was discharged accidentally in a physical education locker room. Further investigation showed that it was a gun. All students were safe a no one was injured.

Immediately after the report, students were evacuated from the area and all students in the building were held safely in their classrooms as Grandview Police were called to investigate. During that process, the school went into an external lockdown until police were able to secure the firearm.

“The safety of our students and staff is our top priority,” the statement read. “Currently an investigation is in process and student discipline will take place according to board policy and statute.”

Policy JFCJ states: The Board recognizes the importance of preserving a safe educational environment for students, employees and patrons of the district. In order to maintain the safety of the educational community, the district will strictly enforce the necessary disciplinary consequences resulting from the use or possession of weapons on school property. No student may possess a weapon on school property at any time, except as specifically authorized during a school-sponsored or school-sanctioned activity permitting weapons. In such cases, the school district will provide secured storage of student weapons if necessary.

School property is defined as: Property utilized, supervised, rented, leased, or controlled by the school district including but not limited to school playgrounds, parking lots and school buses, and any property on which any school activity takes place whether held at home or at another school campus/location.

A weapon is defined to mean one or more of the following:
1.  A firearm as defined in 18 U.S.C. § 921.
2. Any device defined in § 571.010, RSMo, including a blackjack, concealable firearm, firearm, firearm silencer, explosive weapon, gas gun, knife, knuckles, machine gun, projectile weapon, rifle, shotgun, spring gun or switchblade knife.
3. A dangerous weapon as defined in 18 U.S.C. § 930(g)(2).
4. All knives and any other instrument or device used or designed to be used to threaten or assault, whether for attack or defense.
5. Any object designed to look like or imitate a device as described in 1-4.

Pursuant to the Missouri Safe Schools Act and the federal Gun-Free Schools Act of 1994, any student who brings or possesses a weapon as defined in #1 or #2 above on school property or at any school activity held at home or at another school campus/location will be suspended from school for at least one calendar year or expelled and will be referred to the appropriate legal authorities. The suspension or expulsion may be modified on a case-by-case basis upon recommendation by the superintendent to the Board of Education.

Students who bring or possess weapons as defined in #3, #4 and #5 and not otherwise included in #1 and #2, will also be subject to suspension and/or expulsion from school and may be referred to the appropriate legal authorities.

Students with disabilities who violate this policy will be disciplined in accordance with policy JGE.
This policy will be submitted annually to the state Department of Elementary and Secondary Education along with a report indicating any suspensions or expulsions resulting from the possession or use of a firearm as defined in 18 U.S.C. § 921. The report will include the name of the school in which the incidents occurred, the number of students suspended or expelled and the types of weapons involved.

“We have crisis plans in every building,” said Assistant Superintendent of Human Resources Lori DeAnda. “We have trained our administrators to deal with any kind of discipline that may come up.”

Part of that crisis plan, in an instance such as last week, is to notify law enforcement for support. 
Anytime the district receives information that there might be some sort of weapon, each instance is handled differently based on the circumstances that surround it.

“It’s more likely that we have a firework brought in, but we treat every situation as though we don’t know what the weapon is,” said DeAnda.

Each building follows protocols to notify the district’s central office administrators, who then report to offer support to building administrators. District staff then work to identify any student that may be related to the incident or provide any information to help with the investigation at the site level. Anytime an administrator feels that an incident maybe have a criminal component or a law has been violated, the police department is notified.

According to DeAnda, whenever an administrator might believe a situation to be dangerous, the district works in collaboration with the police department to contain students and staff and enforce lockdown procedures. It is a decision made between an administrator and central office or central office and law enforcement.

“It could even be just that we don’t want kids in the hallways for a little while,” said DeAnda. “It is different every time, and there are situations in which the police have to take over and we follow them. Then there are situations where they follow us.”

Staff in the building is notified through a variety of ways, depending on the situation’s urgency.

“Technically, all of our buildings are locked down every day,” said DeAnda. “The perimeter doors are always locked.”

If law enforcement is involved, the lockdown procedures are not lifted until police determine it is safe to do so. The district’s administration also double-checks to ensure the safety of everyone in the building. While an investigation may be ongoing, the priority is to be certain that the area of the incident is safe and secure.

“We always want to improve however we can, and we are constantly networking with other districts and looking at best practices when it comes to security and safety procedures,” said DeAnda.

The district began a process after a previous incident to look at how to improve practices. During these conversations, it became evident, according to DeAnda, that while kids in the district are aware of the dangers associated with weapons, they are still struggling to communicate with adults when an unsafe situation arises.

“When we investigate, we discover that kids knew about it here and kids knew it there,” said DeAnda. “If we had been told at this time or at that time, we could have responded quicker or made the situation safer.”

DeAnda added that in many cases, the students know more about the situation than administration. Ironically, when last week’s incident occurred, district administration was in the high school building in a committee meeting discussing safety and communication with students.  

“We have started that conversation,” said DeAnda. “Clearly we need to expand now and we know parents are asking the same questions.”

The district is developing a plan to contact parents when an incident occurs and include families in the conversations. The priority for parents is safety, and the district understands that concern.

“How do you make schools as safe as possible without making them feel like prisons?” DeAnda asked. “This is not a new question. For fourteen years, we’ve not had an incident. We’ve kept our kids as safe as possible.”

Research proves, according to DeAnda, that schools are not made safer with the use of metal detectors.

“The perception is horrible,” said DeAnda. “That’s not us. I don’t believe that is the educational climate that we want to cultivate here in Grandview.”


The district will continue to work on safety procedures and communication with students, families and the community. 

Thursday, January 12, 2017

Explosion Levels Grandview Building



Fireworks to blame; ATF charges expected soon

by Mary Wilson, mwilson@jcadvocate.com

What began as a structure fire on Grandview’s southwest side of I-49 last week quickly turned into something potentially life-threatening. Just after 7 p.m. on Tuesday, January 3, Grandview first responders received word of a structure fire at JW’s Lawn and Garden Equipment, located at 14010 US 71 (140th and I-49).

According to Grandview Fire Marshal Lew Austin, the first responder to the scene drove to the front of the building, and deciding to set up a command post on the north, moved his vehicle to the side of the structure. At that time, the front-side of the building exploded. The initial blast could be felt all throughout Grandview and in nearby communities.

“We are thankful that no one was hurt,” said Grandview Fire Chief Ron Graham. “The cops usually get to the scene first, and as they do, they look around and one of our officers could have easily been killed.”

Graham said his firemen were aware of the building, and has previously discussed a plan of action if it were to ever catch fire.

“They knew they weren’t going to go in there,” said Graham. “When the call came in, it was determined that if the fire was anything at all, they would not go in and they would fight it from the outside. We were prepared for that. We weren’t prepared for this.”

The Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives (ATF) was called in to help with the investigation. What was initially believed to be ammunition exploding inside the structure turned out to be the supplies for the makings of fireworks.

Austin added that it was rumored that there was a dog inside the building at the time of the blast, and that it was known that a wood stove was used to heat the building. Some trees to the west of the property were sheered to about three or four feet off the ground. Grandview firefighters evacuated 46 people after the initial massive explosion just after 7 p.m. The fire department has also reported a total of nine homes with broken windows caused by the initial blast, and 19 apartments with damage.
The last inspection completed at JW’s Lawn and Garden Equipment was in 2012. Austin said that for a typical business still in operation, an inspection every five to seven years is the norm.


While the investigation is ongoing, ATF is working to determine whether to file state or federal charges against the business owner.