When I moved to Kansas City in 1991, I lived with my Grandmother Betty. She was my Dad's step-mother, and when I graduated from college, she placed a phone call to my Dad, inviting me to stop by and stay with her in Kansas City. (I was supposed to be on my way to New York to work at a big advertising firm.) She encouraged my Dad to have me stay with her a couple of weeks before moving on to NYC, you know, just to see if KC might be a place I wanted to stay and put down roots. My Dad was floored by her offer and told me so. He explained that Betty never really had displayed much patience for us kids, as she had never had children of her own. Intrigued by her offer, and anxious to get out of Oklahoma and on my path, I headed out the following week and stayed with Betty in Kansas City. I immediately felt at ease with her and after living with her for only two weeks, I was suddenly sending out resumes to find a job in Kansas City. The rest is history, I did put down roots here, and 20 years later I still call KC home.
My Grandma Betty was a career girl, an accountant at the TWA corporate office downtown for over 20 years. (She he worked in the building with the TWA rocket on the top of it in the Crossroads, now the home of Barkley Advertising.) She married my Grandfather Bill after my Dad was born and his first wife died giving birth to my Dad, and Betty had no children of her own. She was a Pisces, like me. She smoked a lot and drank a little. She enjoyed eating well, and going out to restaurants. After Grandpa Bill died she taught herself how to drive a car so she could get around. She lived frugally, but never cheap. She spoke up and said what was on her mind. She scolded me with humor. She told the best dirty jokes in the world. She was a one-of- a-kind, and she needed me in the final years of her life. She was lonely and looking for someone to be there for her, when she needed it. What I didn't realize at the time, was how much I needed her, too. I needed her workplace wisdom, as I was starting my career. I needed her financial discipline, as I was opening my first bank account and learning to manage my finances. I needed her advice on men and love and sex, as I was just starting to date in Kansas City. Her best sex tip for me came after I got married. She gave me her large and luxurious fur collection. She gave me coats, capes, drapes, shawls of every fur imaginable, all with her initials embroidered on the inside of them. They were given to me with this word of advice: "I don't think you can actually wear these furs on the streets these days. I know it is not considered PC anymore to wear them, but if things ever get a little stale in the bedroom, dear . . .simply wrap yourself in one of these furs wearing nothing but a smile and his favorite perfume." I loved her. She loved me.
One of the rituals I watched Betty do every week, that first year I lived with her, was she would pick up the phone on Thursday and place her order for a dozen pecan rolls to be picked up on Saturday from McLain's Bakery just down the street. She liked to have a pecan roll with her coffee each morning for breakfast. If it was a special occasion, she would also order a dozen chocolate cup cookies from McLain's Bakery. They were her favorite and became mine too. They are basically a pecan sandie with a dollop of chocolate frosting on top of them. Every Saturday, I was dispatched from the house with cash in my hand to collect her order of pecan rolls from McLain's Bakery. I thought this practice was so quaint at the time. I had no idea people still visited these types of shops for their foodstuff, when I was coming straight out of college. I was used to shopping for EVERYTHING at large Wal-Mart SuperCenters. One look at the shop, one taste of the things that they made in there and it was clear that this was an old-fashioned bakery. By today's standards, it still is. There are no French macarons in rainbow colors, no adorable cupcakes with glitter on them and no donuts with maple frosting and bacon sprinkles to be had at McLain's. This place was, and still is old school, in the best possible way.
Flash forward to today . . . the couple that owns Grand St. Cafe recently purchased the old McLain's Bakery, moving it from Wornall it to a much prettier location at 210 E. Gregory Street. The space is rustic, but warm. It has views from the dining room of their giant pastry production kitchen, which is visible behind glass. There is a counter where all of the same delicious favorites are still for sale. The old fan favorites sit next to some newer pastry options, that I suspect will continue to enter the mix as the customers will allow. There are large tables scattered about, and they are serving The Roasterie Kansas City Air Roasted Coffee and Shatto Milk Company milk to enjoy with a pastry of your choice.
I ordered a smattering of old and new favorites to take home with me, and as I stopped to take a picture of the inside of the space I noticed Test Kitchen alumni and Executive Chef of Grand Street, Aaron Cross Wells-Morgan sitting with pastry chef and long time friend Amy Berlau. I watch them for a minute as they both sat strategizing the future of the bakery, and I realized I have nothing to worry about. My Grandmother Betty's McLain's Bakery is in really excellent hands.