Sisters bring kitchen art to De Soto
Marcy Bray remembers overwhelming her husband the first time she prepared pasta as a newlywed.
"I prepared these huge amounts," she said. "I made like two gallons of sauce. He looked at it and said, 'I can't eat all that.'
"That's how I'd always cooked."
Bray and her sister, Karen Mitchell, said learning to prepare meals on such large scales was something they learned from their mother, Meredith Fevurly, while growing up in Leavenworth with five siblings. But those who visit their downtown De Soto Bleu Tomato bistro when it opens early next month will benefit from other lessons they learned from their mother.
"There was always something going on in the kitchen," Bray said. "It was the heart of our house."
"Mom taught us how to entertain," Mitchell said.
Cooking and entertaining remained a passion even as they added other interests. Mitchell remembers writing a vow years ago on a napkin while living in Germany, swearing that she would one day own a bistro where she could apply her culinary and artistic sides.
Until about five months ago, she exercised both passions at home. She painted her abstract oils and ran her personal chef business Cook Eze out of her kitchen. That ended when the city of Lenexa disapproved of her using her home for the culinary enterprise.
With that, Mitchell began looking for commercial space to relocate her catering business. Space in Olathe, Lenexa and Shawnee was too limited and expensive.
When Bray suggested she look in De Soto, she found the former home of Doc and Bruties and two friends who had or were setting up in downtown De Soto, Mary Lay of Roundtrip Imports and Jenny Wheat of Wheat Photography.
The two women decided the opportunity was there to go beyond the catering business. In that, they received the encouragement from their new neighbors.
"We had a lot of response that De Soto needed another lunch place," Bray said.
The last four months, the sisters have remodeled the interior of the cafe at the corner of 83rd and Wea streets. They cleared out the room facing 83rd Street, which will be the seating area, and cleaned the stoves, sinks and kitchen essentials to its rear.
In the meantime, landlord Lori Beery has redone the plumbing and wiring, the sisters said.
The newly remodeled dining area seats about 40 and seating will also be provided in front of the cafe on 83rd Street and along Wea Street to the west.
Their remodeling effort has been a family affair, Bray and Mitchell said. They pressed their husbands, Britt Bray and Mark Mitchell, into the effort, as well as Mitchell's twin sister and her husband.
There is still work to be done, but the work that went into the restaurant the past four months is obvious from the outside, where a new sign announces the Bleu Tomato name of the bistro.
The name, Mitchell explained, was chosen as a way to tie the sister's interest in art and food together. Art is another interest they inherited from their artist mother, they said. Mitchell studied illustration art in college and now does abstract oil painting. Bray's artistic release is weaving.
Some of Mitchell's abstract paintings cover the wall of the eating area, but wall space will be given to artistic shows of local and area artists.
"We'll have meet the artist nights," Bray said. "It's my Lawrence influence. There's wonderful support for artists in restaurants in downtown Lawrence. We understand De Soto has a lot of wonderful artists."
Bray and Mitchell encourage artists who would like to show at the bistro to call them at (913) 583-1232.
The sisters plan to open March 5, following a "soft opening" March 1, when guests will be invited to sample and comment on the different foods the bistro will offer. That includes pastries in the morning, soups and sandwiches for lunch and the afternoon. There will also be coffee throughout the day as Bray and Mitchell bought the equipment from the closed Coffee Click and will buy their coffee from the owner of two Lawrence coffee shops.
"There ought to be some great smells emanating from this corner in the morning," Bray said.
The bistro's hours will be from 7:30 a.m. to 3 p.m. Monday through Friday. In addition, they will offer dinners for special occasions and are already planning to offer dinners the evening of the De Soto High School prom.
"We'll have white table service," Mitchell said. "We'll have an upscale dinner that will be nice for the students."
They are starting small, Bray and Mitchell said, with an eye to expanding depending on the bistro's reception. That could include weekend or dinner hours.
We have a real strong vision of what we can accomplish," Bray said. "We always talked about doing something together. Mom always encouraged it.
"It was one of those seeds planted a long time ago that's just finally coming out."