Longtime Westport grinder shop closes on Small Business Saturday

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KANSAS CITY, Mo. – A mainstay small business in Westport has closed for the last time. Ironically, its last day was on Small Business Saturday.

Shelia’s Grinder Shop, formerly Mario’s Deli, served its last grinder in the afternoon on Nov. 30.  Before the final transaction, the line snaked out the door of the old brick building as people from all over came to get their hands on the food that helped make this business so successful.

Some came from just up Westport Road. Others around him came from up Westport Road and as far away as Belton and Excelsior Springs. Everyone said the same thing: “It’s an institution.”

Ryan Summers was one of them.

“I just got this unfortunate news that Shelia’s is closing,” he said.

Everyone came for one last time and one last taste of her famous grinder, a special kind of toasted sandwich filled with pizza sauce and other ingredients. For Summers, it’s “the cheese grinder and the pasta salad.”

“I’m going to go in there,” he said. “I’m going to order my usual, and I’m going to give her a big hug.”

On the inside of 204 Westport Road, the small space was full of smells and people waiting for their food.

“Hey, how are you?!” Shelia Shields said, greeting her customers, including Mike Allee. He got the last of her famous grinders.

“So sad to hear you’re leaving,” he told her over the register. “Good luck with everything.”

Shields isn’t sure what comes next. She’s owned Shelia’s Grinder Shop since February of 2018. Before that, she worked, and eventually ran, Mario’s Deli. Mario’s, anyone waiting outside in the line will tell you, is a Kansas City institution more than 50 years old known as a site for first dates and family dinners. It first opened back in 1968.

“It felt great to have all these people come out and support me,” Shelia said from behind her closed register. “I wanted to get them that last grinder or pasta salad.”

For Shields, the decision was easy: her health became more important than serving food.

However, Shelia’s is an outlier as far as recent closures go. Fred P. Ott’s celebrated its last night less than two weeks ago. Several other well-known Kansas City restaurants are changing hands and filing for bankruptcy.

“It is more difficult now to run restaurants,” Kevin Timmons, the owner of Nick and Jake’s, said. “It is more costly now to run restaurants than it ever has been.”

An often quoted statistic notes that most restaurants close in their first year. However, according to this Forbes article quoting the Bureau of Labor Statistics, it’s actually closer to only 17 percent.

Timmons is also the chairman of the board for the Greater Kansas City Restaurant Association. He maintains that costs are increasing and business is tougher now on restaurants. One thing he blames is the expectation for technology.

“In order to match the rising cost of our DirecTV bill, we’d be selling a burger for $27,” he said. “We’re selling $12 burgers… And who would’ve thought people would come in and order $12 burgers? But that is now the new norm. And it has to be.”

The bottom line: to keep serving up food, it will cost. For some, the cost just isn’t worth it.

Shelia Shields looked at her front door, with the closed sign. Through the glass, she saw more customers coming to buy the food she no longer had. She smiled.

“I love ya,” she said. “Thanks for all the support.”

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