After several taxing years due to the COVID-19 pandemic, Kansas City’s restaurant industry is picking up momentum.

Restaurateurs who paused expansion plans, for example, now are hunting for sites, said Kim Halloran, president of the Greater Kansas City Restaurant Association (GKCRA) and a managing partner at The Capital Grille in Kansas City.

And other restaurateurs who thought their businesses wouldn’t survive the pandemic now are doing well. More workers also are re-entering the restaurant industry, she said.

“With the (NFL) Draft and FIFA (World Cup) coming and the excitement around the new airport, there’s just a great buzz around it. I don’t think I have felt this much excitement about restaurants in at least six or seven years,” she said.

Part of that excitement, she said, is due to the uptick in more diverse restaurants. She cited restaurants such as Chingu, a Korean restaurant that opened its first area location in Westport in December, and Waldo Thai, whose chef and owner Pam Liberda was named a James Beard Award semifinalist this year for Best Chef: Midwest. Six other local restaurants and chefs also were named semifinalists in a variety of categories.

The rise in diversity makes the local restaurant scene stronger, and it’s giving area chefs confidence to take the leap and open a restaurant that’s “a little different,” Halloran said. Diners have shown they’re willing to try it, she added.

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