By Kevin Collison
If downtown Kansas City had an award for friendliest new business of the year, Banksia, the new Australian bakehouse & cafe in the former Sasha’s space at 105 W. Ninth St. would be the front-runner.
Even a break-in two days before in which his cash drawer was stolen couldn’t dampen the spirits of Robert Joseph, founder and CEO.
His enthusiasm for his new place, excitement about adding to the downtown food scene and classic Aussie accent was infectious.
“We love being in downtown Kansas City,” he said. “It reminds me of Sydney and Melbourne with all the beautiful old buildings, but there hasn’t been a strong food scene downtown until recently.”
Since rebranding the space in April as Banksia, a well-known Australian flower, business has blossomed as downtown residents, workers and visitors have discovered the wonders of Aussie-style salads, gourmet sandwiches, meat pies and sausage rolls.
“I’m hugely impressed and surprised by all the locals downtown who were desperate for something like this,” Joseph said. “They line up on the weekend because there’s not a lot that caters to them.”
Joseph’s story in Kansas City began in 2012 when he, his wife and daughters moved here from Sydney. He came here to help run the U.S. operations of Parnell, a veterinary pharmaceutical company. In 2017, he sold his interest in the business.
It was a pivotal moment for him and his wife, Kate, as well as Erika Vikor, a business partner at Parnell.
“We considered moving back to Australia or staying, and we had a good quality of life here,” Joseph said. “We also felt there were more business opportunities in the U.S.
“I didn’t want to do the same thing as before, I traveled a lot and I have three young girls. I wouldn’t to see them. My wife and I decided to stay here.”
It took only three weeks of retirement before Kate told him he needed a hobby.
“My friends had encouraged me to start a restaurant for years,” he said. “I’m a huge foodie.”
And while he said he was reluctant to take on restaurant hours, “I didn’t want to work 15 hours a day,” an opportunity arose when the former Sasha’s Bakery Co. closed.
Joseph bought the equipment and took over the lease in December. He held onto the Sasha’s name the first few months while figuring out his new menu. His wife and Vikor also became partners in the venture.
“Sydney and Melbourne have a vibrant cafe culture thanks to the Greeks and Italians who migrated there in the 1960s and 1970s,” Joseph said. “Later, Lebanese refugees from their civil war fought the coffee culture and a diverse food scene.”
He described the Banksia menu as “typical” Australian food. It’s big on “beautiful” salads, gourmet sandwiches, class meat pies and sausage rolls made with delicate Australian lamb and flavored with Harrissa, a Lebanese spice paste. Kate makes the desserts including pavlova.
“We’re aiming for a casual place for a quick, work lunch,” Jospeh said.
Hours are from 7:30 a.m. to 3 p.m. Mondays through Saturdays, and 9 a.m. to 3 p.m. Sundays. The outdoor patio seats 32 people.
Banksia offers a special brunch menu that includes pancakes served with a delicious Aussie concoction called honeycomb butter…”the flavor is massive,” Joseph said.
In late June, Banksia plans to add evening hours Wednesdays through Sundays from 5- to 9 p.m. The menu will include tapas and shared plates. The business also plans to have its full liquor license by then.
And the enterprising Aussie plans to open two more Banksia’s in the metro, one in the Country Club Plaza, the other in the Town Center area of Leawood.
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