Fearlessness is on the menu for Chef Penny Mufuka, a 25-year veteran of the stovetop, bringing to boil plans for a second Johnson County-cooked restaurant in the course of the COVID-19 pandemic.
“It makes me sweat everyday,” Mufuka laughed, musing the decision she made with husband and co-owner, Doug Mufuka, to open Bamboo Penny’s in a two-story, 5,400-square-foot space within Leawood’s Park Place shopping center.
Slated to open later this spring, Bamboo Penny’s will mark the couple’s third metro restaurant. Thai House opened in 2013 in South Kansas City. KC Thai followed late last year in Overland Park, amid the global health crisis.
“We’ve had second thoughts — and third thoughts about doing it,” Doug Mufuka added. “We just had to have some confidence in the future.”
And Bamboo Penny’s aims to inspire just that as the metro enters a period of re-emergence.
The restaurant is expected to launch with a (retractable) rooftop bar called “The Bamboo Room,” set against a vintage hollywood-inspired backdrop that serves up cocktails tropical cocktails — including a prohibition-era staple bamboo, which combines sherry, vermouth, and bitters.
“There’s a lot of outdoor dining space which we don’t have in our other restaurants at all, so it lends itself to this [pandemic] environment,” Doug Mufuka said.
As for its menu, Bamboo Penny’s will debut Polynisian-inspired takes on Thai staples, the Mufukas dished, serving up plans to use tropical fruits like mango, banana, and pineapple in dozens of recipes.
“The Pad Thai is something I want customers to try the first time they’re here. It’s really simple — but its good,” Penny Mufuka said, detailing ways she hopes customers will take a chance on the restaurant’s bold approach to flavor and its menu.
Mufuka’s signature pineapple fried rice, for example, is expected to take a Polyniesian twist, served to guests in a pineapple shell.
Additional menu items — including mango duck, papaya salad, soft shell crab, thai ribs, and crab rangoon — will be paired with the restaurant’s signature cocktails.
“We want [customers] to be open-minded and try things other than our fried rice,” added Doug Mufuka. “Thai food is very diverse and I think it’s really important people try going in without any preconceived notions like, ‘Oh it’s just Chinese food.’ No, its Thai food. It’s different. Let us show you how.”
But Bamboo Penny’s isn’t just an experience of cultural immersion. The Mufukas (especially Penny) are eager to show restaurant-goers how deep their love for food and the people of Kansas City runs.
“Kansas City is our home, but we also want to share our background, our culture, our food with you,” Doug Mufuka said, noting the couple is equally eager to embrace the family-style environment of the Park Place retail district — values they believe align perfectly with the mission of Bamboo Penny’s and their other restaurants.
“All the kids and parents [can come together] and she really liked that,” he added, noting the chef’s excitement.
“I’m from Chicago and we’ve gone back to visit. She’s just kind of put off by the way people don’t know each other — neighbors don’t know each other. Here we know each other. Everyone is kind of looking out for each other.”
This story is possible thanks to support from the Ewing Marion Kauffman Foundation, a private, nonpartisan foundation that works together with communities in education and entrepreneurship to create uncommon solutions and empower people to shape their futures and be successful.