By Kevin Collison
Brad Gilmore celebrated his 40th birthday last week with the gift he always wanted, the opportunity to run his own restaurant.
The co-founder of Lula Southern Cookhouse at 1617 Main had been temporarily leasing the former Nara space since November until his dream to create a culinary home for true Southern cooking came through.
“We were only going to do November and December, but it went extremely well,” Gilmore said. “People really love it and we decided to keep going in January for Restaurant Week.
“Our landlord said, let’s figure out a 10-year lease.”
He signed last Wednesday.
Gilmore is a native of North Carolina and moved here when he was 18. The restaurant is named after his grandmother.
“I always knew I wanted to honor her,” he said. “Southern food in the Midwest isn’t the Southern food I grew with…it’s not just fried chicken and heavy food.
“It’s about sitting at a table and having a great time and eating good food.”
Gilmore’s food journey downtown started in the suburbs where he worked at the Ignite Woodfire Grill in Lenexa along with his wife Brittany and friend Brandon West. When the Ignite Group “imploded” during Covid, he decided to strike out on his own.
Together, the three created Three B Hospitality, a catering business. Friends at the Rockhill Grille suggested they look at the former Nara building, suggesting they do a pop-up restaurant there and cater to the event space on the second level.
The reception from downtown diners was enthusiastic.
“I’ve opened a lot of restaurants and I’ve never seen the customer reception we’ve seen here,” Gilmore said. “I’ll work a long day and couldn’t be happier. It comes from the response of customers.
They make me feel so good about what we’re doing and love the space.”
The old building dates back to the 1920s and the dining room features tall windows on the north side pouring natural light on the exposed brick interior, wood-rafter ceiling and decorative flourishes of Mason jars, homy knick knacks and photos.
There’s a full bar on one end and the space seats 120 people inside and another 60 on the patio. There’s a reserved parking lot with 15 spaces off Main adjoining the building.
Peeling back the Vidalia onion further, Gilmore said he was inspired by a book called “Southern Provisions: The Creation and Revival of a Cuisine,” by David Shields published in 2015.
“It’s a great book, my favorite culinary book without recipes,” Gilmore said. “Chefs got together and talked about Southern food being a heritage of our country that needed to be defined.”
The swath of the South embraced by Lula’s stretches from the Chesapeake Bay to New Orleans. Menu items include Shrimp & Grits, Smothered Pork Chops and a NOLA Pot Pie with crayfish, oysters, shrimp, andouille sausage and gumbo grave in a puff pastry.
You can also order a platter of Southern Fried Chicken and a Shrimp Boil. And there’s a Vidalia Onion Bisque too.
Lula is open Wednesday through Sunday, closed Monday and Tuesday. Weekday lunch hours are 11 a.m. to 4 p.m.; supper hours are 4-9 p.m. weekdays and 4- 10 p.m. Fridays and Saturdays. Brunch is served Saturdays and Sundays from 10 a.m. to 2 p.m.
Lula also is planning an Easter brunch with sit-down service in the restaurant and a buffet at the upstairs event space.
Gilmore also has some special catering customers as well for a venture called Kravin’ It KC. They include the KC Current women’s soccer club; the Royals and visiting teams, and the Kansas City Monarchs.
The owner sees his new, long-term Main Street address as the place he wants to be.
“I love it down here,” he said. “I spent the last five years in the suburbs and the energy of downtown is great. People are very positive and there’s a diverse customer base. My family and kids love being down here too.”
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