By Kevin Collison
The Crossroads newest pizzeria is a new spin on a 20 year-old franchise that started in old Overland Park.
Papa Keno’s opened in October in the former Snow & Co. space at 1815 Wyandotte, and aside from causing nearby Pizzabella some billboard indigestion, it’s been great fun so far for its owner, Philippe Lechevin.
“If someone had told me six years ago, I’d run a pizza place, I’d say ‘no way,'” Lechevin said.
He was seated at the bar of Papa Keno’s Crossroads. The place has a friendly, quasi-industrial vibe with a colorful menu over the counter fronting the kitchen, vivid street murals on one wall and rolling garage doors at the back leading to an alley-side patio.
Lechevin is a native of Vittel, France and moved to Washington D.C. in 1994 where he met his future wife, a Kansas City native.
“She didn’t want to move to the East Coast, so we moved here,” he said.
He had been cooking professionally since he was 14, and found work as a chef with PB&J Restaurants. His first stop was YaYa’s in Leawood, then came the Grand Street Cafe and Paulo & Bill in Shawnee.
His next chef gigs were at the Kauffman Foundation and then at the new Kauffman Center for the Performing Arts.
At the Kauffman Center, he helped establish “The Dining Experience,” a full-service restaurant. But along the way, Lechevin branched out from fine cuisine to a more popular type of dining.
Papa Keno’s Pizzeria, which opened in old Overland Park in 1995, was for sale.
“We knew we could put it back in shape so we bought it in 2013,” Lechevin said.
He continued at the Kauffman Center for another couple of years, but then decided to focus his attention on the pizza business. Besides Overland Park, there are outlets in Lawrence and Westport.
Lechevin knew the neighborhood around the performing arts center and believed the space at 1815 Wyandotte would work for his next venture.
One of his better moves was to remove the back wall and open access to a patio by the alley that runs between 18th and 19th streets.
“Our first First Friday was in October and we had more people coming in from the back than the front,” he said.
That’s the reason why he decided to put up the billboard that annoyed Pizzabella. It points directly to his patio and rear entrance.
Papa Keno’s specializes in New York-style pizza, served by the slice or as whole pies. There’s also calzones, sandwiches and salads on the menu.