Food Served from the Heart

Within the Kansas City area lies stories and traditions held by authentic, family owned restaurants who have built themselves through generations. While some flourish others struggle, but all remain true to their family values.


Katrin Hueser, co-owner of German restaurant Affäre, reads order tickets under the window on Nov. 11. Heuser co-owns Affäre with her husband, Martin Heuser. photo by Beatrice Curry

by Claire Smith, Design Editor

Tender love and care is a valuable ingredient in making true food; food that has a history and a purpose when served to its customers. Often this value is overlooked as restaurants expand into chains—when quantity trumps quality. Family owned restaurants are in a unique position that emphasizing family values means maintaining this love and care for their craft. 

Kansas City is a growing community of local arts, businesses and restaurants. Many of these restaurants feature a variety of ethnic dishes, from authentic German to Pan-Asian cuisine. Kansas City offers a small, fostering community that encourages localized growth. The movement “Keep Brookside Local” is an example of this value being put to the test. The “family owned,” localized trend is seen throughout KCMO, but each restaurant comes with its own struggles. 

The crossroads feature a multitude of restaurants such as this, including Affarë off of Main St.. Martin Heuser is the head chef and owner of Affarë, where he features traditional german cuisine from his childhood in Germany. 

He has been serving the Kansas City area for about 12 years and has found a unique place within the Kansas City food community. But this stark difference in cultural food compared to the chain restaurants of the area can be a challenge for Heuser. 

“I don’t think I get my fair share in the city because I’m different, but I want to be different,” Heuser said. “I have no intention to copy any other Kansas City menu because this is not what I am. We haven’t been doing it to be different, and I think we do a very good job of it. It’s very true food.”

Sticking to the roots of German culture is a priority for Heuser and his menu choices. He finds that remaining true to a family identity keeps regulars coming back, which is more rewarding for him and his family. 

“[Customers] instead of going to corporate restaurants [they] would rather come here, because staff knows everybody by name,” Heuser said. I think that’s important.”

Emphasizing family values within the staff and the customers is what Farling Ng, the regional owner,  says helps maintain the success of the Asian cuisine restaurant Bo Lings. 

“Staff will like to come into work every shift with smiling [faces] and it’s like a big family,” Ng said. “I think this is our mission because it’s rare to have to work in a place that you enjoy and you don’t look at it as a job. You will really enjoy it, and you feel that when you go into your work or you come to dining; that you’re looking forward to it.”

Bo Lings has been serving the Kansas City community for a long time and have established themselves as a successful institution. With multiple locations across Kansas and Missouri area, owning a restaurant has become more than a business; it’s a way of life. 

“It’s a lifestyle we’ve been apart of since 1981; today we start Boling’s like almost 40 years so it’s become a lifestyle is not just a business,” Ng said. “We started like a small restaurant and now we have six locations. And we have built up three generations with customers, with staff, so it’s just like a big family to us.”

Freshman Isabel Reyes says that her dad has always wanted to open his own place, and he made that dream possible this year. Reyes’ dad, Raymon Reyes, has owned Burger State off of 89th and Wornall since January. Her dad has worked in the restaurant business for a long time, and was finally given the opportunity to pursue his own passions.  

“He was the general manager of The Well in Waldo for a long, long time,” Reyes said. “Eventually he was like ‘I want to be able to do what I want to do for my own restaurant.’So he got one, and he was very happy about it because he’s always wanted to have one ever since he was dating my mom in the early 2000s.” 

Starting a new family business can be tough; long hours and financials can have an affect on family dynamics. 

“We have learned to get used to his hours; he works From 9 a.m. to he usually gets home around 10 or 9:30 so I don’t really see him as much,” Reyes said. “Money wise I feel like we’re still in debt with [starting the restaurant] and it’s changed but we’ve gotten used to the change already. It was a very, very light change.” 

Despite the challenges that opening a new business can bring, Reyes acknowledges the unique rewards that having a restaurant can provide for a family and community. 

“It brings the family together,” Reyes said. “We’ve had a lot of events there [Burger State]. We were wanting to do some family events there just because it’s a nice place to have like a bunch of people at once. We’ve had a lot more family gatherings and just gatherings of people together.”

Putting passion and care into developing a self developed business is a huge aspect to success. Ng advises the youth of today to put that same energy into any career pursued in life. 

“Put time and passion into it and you will make it,” Ng said. “My suggestion for the young people is that they’re not just looking for something that is the best because I feel like nothing is best. Look for something to keep them interested; find what they want to do and make it happen.”