The Gold Buffet (1961-1994)
503 E. 18th Avenue, North Kansas City, Missouri
“Someone wrote once that ‘I may not remember the words that you said or the food you served but I will always remember how both made me feel!’ The general feel of the Gold Buffet was as important as the food itself -- it’s all about what’s remembered all these years later," wrote Jon Ryburg in a Kansas City History Buffs Facebook post. He aptly described the importance of Kansas City's first major all-you-can eat buffet.
Cafeterias were the product of Prohibition, the Depression, and World War Two austerity. As beloved as they were, they mirrored challenges that Americans at that time faced, particularly when it came to portion control, making due, and using leftovers creatively. The all-you-can-eat buffet, however, reflected the dizzying options and excesses that many Americans experienced in the post-World-War-Two era.
More people than ever had both money in their pockets and leisure time. Meals became associated not only with fueling one’s body for work but also with entertainment and good times. No one understood the zeitgeist better than Alvin “Carroll” Meyer, a farmer’s son from Van Meter, Iowa, who started out running a truck stop steakhouse with his father, and who then, again with his father, built a bowling alley attached to a 350-seat buffet in Winterset. Naming their concept the Gold Buffet, Carroll Meyer was ready for a bigger market, and less than three hours down I-35 lay North Kansas City, across the river from downtown Kansas City.
Recalling the story in 1975 to Kansas City Times columnist, Jess Ritter, Meyer explained that he had “heard about this big bowling alley in North Kansas City.” He came down “on a hunch. There was a losing restaurant operation going on next door,” he continued. “They wanted to turn the place into a discount house. I started talking about a giant buffet restaurant, and the money men got spooked. They came to Winterset, Iowa, checked out the original Gold Buffet, and gave me an O.K.”
From its start, the Gold Buffet invited patrons to pay $2.00 (way cheaper for children), take up to two plates, and load as much as they wanted from two long tables featuring fifty salads, five or more meat entrees (hand-carved baron of beef or roast ham, fried and baked chicken among the options), and an array of pies, cakes, and tarts from the pastry cart.
An advertisement that ran in countless local and regional publications teased prospective patrons with its abundance.
In its early days, it seated 550 people in five different rooms. Those who craved live music and dancing ate in the Cork Club room, while another room allowed for both dining while also watching bowlers at the adjacent NKC Pro Bowl.
Kansas City Star, 1961 advertisement
It was the Baby Boomer era, and many parents loved the Gold Buffet for its affordability. It could accommodate the small appetites of children with a “kiddie buffet,” and also the voracious appetite of teens. Even better, it allowed children an unheard-of luxury: sampling foods that piqued their curiosity. Cafeterias piqued curiosity, too, but a lot of parents could not justify buying an item to have a child dislike it. The buffet opened up untold possibilities. With such choice and temptations, no wonder the Gold Buffet became a destination restaurant for people from all over the Kansas City Metro as well as the Midwest. Grith Safehaven wrote on Facebook's Kansas City Memories that it was “the first buffet I experienced, around 1970. I was a hungry high school kid who found the Holy Grail of Food. I mean, personally carved roast beef from a huge roast! Unlimited food?! Heaven."
“I’m the son of a farmer, and all farmers are gamblers,” Carroll Meyer told Jess Ritter, after the Gold Buffet had added arguably its most enduring feature, the 1,000 + seat Celebrity Room. At the time, something of that magnitude had not been attempted in Kansas City, but Meyer and his father had long been Vegas fans, and Meyer was convinced that a “top-name entertainment [venue] in a comfortable supper club atmosphere” could work. The gamble paid off, and by August 1975, Vegas and Hollywood live entertainment joined with the bowling alley and miniature golf course for patrons to make literally a day and a night out of it. The first entertainers to appear at the Gold Buffet were Jerry Van Dyke, Abbe Lane, Rowan & Martin, Mamie Van Doren, Jerry Lee Lewis (booked every night for a week for sell-out performances), Teresa Brewer, and Dick Shawn. Later performers who became regulars included Red Skelton and Foster Brooks.
The Gold Buffet almost outlasted its colorful owner, but by the early 1990s, Meyer was finally ready to slow down. He sold the 32,000 foot property to Laurence “Mickey” Finn who had been the long-time manager and then owner of the adjacent NKC Pro Bowl, but Meyer continued to operate the Gold Buffet for the next couple of years, simply leasing the space from Finn until in 1994 he was ready to leave it behind, and after a remodel, Finnegan’s Hall claimed the spot.
This blog post is the exclusive property of the author, Andrea Broomfield. Acknowledgements are required for material borrowed from this post.