Editor’s note: This article is underwritten by Plexpod — a progressive coworking platform offering next generation workspace for entrepreneurs, startups, and growth-stage companies of all sizes — but was independently produced by Startland News.
Pizzeria restaurateur Alan Kneeland’s connection to Troost slices both ways.
“I actually grew up on 75th and Troost, so it’s pretty dope to be able to open a business on Troost,” said Kneeland, operating partner of The Combine, a freshly baked concept in the first floor of the Wonder Shops and Flats development. “There’s nothing like this in this area.”
“Right now, there’s a lot of development happening, but there is no place where you can go and get an affordable slice of pizza or a nice cocktail,” he continued. “You have to go all the way downtown or all the way to Martini Corner.”
The Combine serves pizzas from Pizza 51, as well as hot and cold sandwiches unique to the restaurant. A full bar with cocktails specific to The Combine, along with beers and wine are offered until close.
Kneeland and his business partners at The Combine — Jason Pryor, owner of Pizza 51, and Charles Peach, who curated The Combine’s cocktail menu — envisioned the space as a neighborhood hangout where people can find unity in divisive times (and along a corridor frequently cited as a prominent player in Kansas City’s racial history), Kneeland said.
Click here to read about the Wonder development’s place in the story of Troost.
“We called it ‘The Combine’ because we want it to be a place where people from all different sides of Kansas City can come together and put all those political views and all those racial divide issues to the side — and just enjoy a beer and a slice of pizza,” he said.
Click here to check out The Combine’s menu. The restaurant is open 11a.m. to 9 p.m., serving fast-casual lunch service Monday through Friday, and full-service dining on evenings and weekends.
The Combine sits at the intersection of Longfellow, Hyde Park and Beacon Hill communities on 30th and Troost. Neighbors include Ruby Jean’s Kitchen & Juicery, Love is Key, Solid State Pinball, BikeKC and Soulcentricitea.
Trouble-shooting the original recipe
Though Kneeland got his start in the restaurant industry as a dishwasher at Panera Bread, meeting customers as manager at Pizza 51 and later as a general manager with Panera Bread drove much of his passion for building a new business, he said.
“I really love interacting with people,” Kneeland said. “That’s what really got me to love the restaurant industry because of the relationships that you build with people on a daily basis. I’ve met so many different people from all different walks of life and all different areas of the city.”
“I just had a guy in [The Combine] who was in town from Alaska,” he recalled. “I started to build a relationship with him. Now I have a person from Alaska following us on Twitter and Facebook. That’s pretty doggone cool.”
The Combine opened Nov. 5, but originally was expected to greet customers in March, Kneeland said, noting he quit his management job at Panera Bread to pursue the business.
COVID-19, of course, put his plans on pause.
“It was kind of a scary situation because I wasn’t getting paid,” Kneeland recalled. “But through those months, me and my business partners really persevered. We were on the fence for a while just dealing with COVID and not knowing. But we stuck with it. The community members, as well as the people in this building, really helped push us to get to the opening.”
The Combine fills a long-vacant space within the renovated Wonder Shops and Flats project that was always slated as some kind of brewpub concept within the mixed-use complex, developers Ilan Salzberg and Caleb Buland told Startland News as far back as September 2017.
Click here to read about Exact Partners’ plans for the Wonder building, which opened as the Campbell-Continental Baking Company in 1915.
Wonder Shops and Flats — a historic former Wonder Bread factory — includes a rooftop event space with downtown views that can accommodate up to 220 guests. The Combine is the exclusive catering partner for the space, which is anchored by an original Wonder Bread truck from the 1950s.
The restaurant’s menu also pays homage to the building’s history by including such “Wonder favorites” as the Fluffernutter, PB & J and grilled cheese sandwiches.
In addition to Kneeland’s unity themes, the “Combine” name is itself a nod to the Wonder past, tying in the wheat produced at the original factory to the wheat used in pizza and deli sandwiches and wheat being harvested through a combine.
“Being here in this building, I have community members come in and share stories about working here in the old Wonder Bread building,” Kneeland said. “I’m getting my own history lessons from people in this area who are excited for us to be open.”
‘In the trenches’
Well-aware that Kansas City could again enter a modified shutdown mode thanks to the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic, Kneeland isn’t waiting to implement a strategy for scaled-back operations, he said.
“We have tried to get ahead of the curve by already starting curbside,” he noted. “We are also getting ready to start to-go cocktails, as well as growlers and to-go beers. We do have 14 taps — mostly local — in our bar, and we really want people to know they can get a six pack to-go or craft beer in our growlers.”
All restaurants are taking a big hit during the pandemic, Kneeland acknowledged, noting some can survive by getting creative and building community support.
“Any business that gets through this pandemic is coming out twice as strong and twice as wise,” he said. “We’re in the trenches right now, really trying to grow business in our own way. But it’s important to stick with it, because this isn’t going to last forever.”