Owner of River Market restaurant says as area is about to boom, he’s being pushed out

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KANSAS CITY, Mo. – After 17 years of serving pizza and Italian food the owner of a beloved restaurant in the River Market said he is being kicked out of his building by new ownership. Café Al Dente will close its doors this weekend. The new building owner, who is a Denver-based developer, said he is not kicking the restaurant out, but chose not to renew its lease.

“You know we saw the vision a long time ago, and now that River Market is about to boom I am being pushed out,” said Eric Dwyer, the owner of Café Al Dente.

Craig Slawson, with Epoch Developments, the new owner of the building, said there were several reasons the lease wasn’t renewed. He said the restaurant doesn’t fit his new vision for the area and that the Yelp reviews “weren’t stellar.” He also said he wanted the owner to step up his game and upgrade the restaurant. He said in addition to those reasons, another local restaurant jumped on the chance to rent the space before Café Al Dente.

“Twenty-seven years I’ve been in the restaurant business and 17 of them here, you know, and it’s all I know, I am 48 years old and now I get to start over again,” the restaurant owner said.

Dwyer said his review on Yelp is a 4 out 5. The restaurant’s Facebook page shows a 4.6 out of 5 on reviews. He said his broker was working out a new lease with the developer and he showed FOX 4 e-mail exchanges between the two. He said he was shocked when he got an e-mail notifying him the lease wouldn’t be renewed.

“I don’t have the table cloths, I don’t have the candles, but you know what, you don’t pay for it either,” he said. “I am sorry I am not doing the trendy thing with steel this and steel that, but I am also not charging for it.”

Slawson said he is grateful to the restaurant for how long they have stayed in the building.

Also in the building is Quay Coffee. The owner of the coffee shop said he is excited about the new management and said Slawson is investing in the property.

“Improved landscape, new eyes, fresh eyes on the building, maybe you’ve seen little things here and there that can be cleaned up, fresh paint, fresh plants and things like that,” said Cory Stipp.

Stipp said it’s been a positive change.

Meanwhile, Dwyer said his 14 employees are looking for new jobs.

“This is my baby, there’s times I don’t pay myself for a month or two to make sure the bills are always paid here, you know I mean I built this from scratch,” he said.

Dwyer said even after his parents, who are the original owners of the restaurant, won $3 million in Missouri Lottery, he held onto the restaurant because it was his passion. The restaurant will close its doors for the last time on Saturday, September 30th.