New pay-as-you-can restaurant opens on Troost, hoping to bring community together

KANSAS CITY, Mo. -- A steady stream of guests packed the newest restaurant to open near 31st and Troost during Thursday’s lunchtime rush.

“The food is good. It will put you to sleep pretty much,” Davon Terrill said.

In just the second day of business for Thelma's Kitchen, and Kansas City native Terrill said he’s already a regular.

“I came yesterday, and I came last week when they had the test run, and the food was just so great. The atmosphere was great,” Terrill said

Meatball subs, soup, salad and artisan grilled cheese are just a few options on the menu.

“It’s all home-cooked, but the other neat thing is that we’re buying our food and getting it from local growers and local farmers,” said Father Justin Matthews, executive director of the nonprofit Reconciliation Services, which operates Thelma’s Kitchen.

They also have several vegan and gluten-free options. But it’s not just the good food that’s bringing people out.

“You can come in and you can pay the suggested incredibly affordable donation price of $10 or $7 and you get a very hearty large meal,” Matthews said.

“If you don’t have $7, as many of our friends and neighbors don’t, then you can pay or donate what you can,” Matthews said.

For some, that means donating time in exchange for a meal by helping the restaurant remain in operation.

“Weather it’s helping a little bit in the kitchen or working outside or helping us clean something,” Matthews said.

He said the new restaurant is all about togetherness, bridging the gap and equality.

“Troost has been this historic racial and economic dividing line as we know. If you’ve grown up in Kansas City, you know about 31st and Troost. But our challenge with Thelma’s Kitchen is to begin to unpack our family stories together,” Matthews said.

After all, the restaurants namesake, Ms. Thelma, is watching down from above, as the directors and staff of Reconciliation Services work to continue her legacy.

“Our co-founder, Thelma and her husband Father Alexi, who is an Orthodox Christian priest, they actually lived in this building. When no one wanted to live on Troost 30 years ago, Father Alexi and Thelma were here practicing radical hospitality," Matthews said.

And customers say that’s a cause they can get behind.

“Places like this would be good for the community because they actually communicate with people. They actually have conversations with people. They’re not just looking at them some type of way or judging them,” Terrill said.

Thelma’s Kitchen is open Monday through Friday from 11 a.m. to 2 p.m. It's located at 31st and Troost, right next to the Reconciliation Services main office. Everyone is welcome to stop in and get a plate.