Happy Gillis Salmon Toast

Salmon toast made with Ibis country bread, dill cream cheese, cucumber, radish, caper berries and egg. 

After fifteen years, chef Abbey-Jo Eans has taken over the kitchen at Happy Gillis Café & Hangout, and she’s looking forward to putting her own spin on the peppy brunch menu at the beloved Kansas City spot.

After a complete refresh of the restaurant in honor of their 5-year anniversary, Happy Gillis is now undergoing even more changes as Abbey-Jo and her husband, chef Josh Eans, switch roles for the first time in their careers.

Abbey-Jo will now be in complete culinary control of Happy Gillis, fulfilling her own interests in having a culinary career of her own. Josh, who has arguably spent more time in the commercial kitchens around Kansas City, is now ready to focus on his new restaurant consulting business, What a Treat Consulting.

It is a fair trade-off, as both parties are able to pursue their current passions. “I am looking forward to being in charge of my own kitchen for the first time,” says Abbey-Jo. “I feel like I have something to say and I just want my food to reflect who I am.”

When the couple bought Happy Gillis from Todd Schulte in 2013, Josh was initially the driving force for the menu, along with a handful of local chefs who called the kitchen at Happy Gillis home over the past five years. The same was true when they opened Columbus Park Ramen Shop next door.

“Most people don’t realize that I am also a chef with a culinary degree, and I am ready to have my own culinary career,” says Abbey-Jo. “With the remodel, the restaurant finally feels like my place, and I want the food to reflect that as well.”

Abbey-Jo earned her culinary degree in baking and pastry from the Scottsdale Culinary Institute in Phoenix, Arizona, at the same time her husband, Josh got his culinary degree. The two were already married when they left Kansas City to head to Phoenix to pursue culinary careers, but once they started their family, it was clear that kids and kitchen hours for both of them was not going to be possible.

“At that point, I willingly stepped back from my own culinary career in order to raise our kids and helped to support Josh in his career as a chef,” Abbey-Jo says. “It was what I wanted to do, but now after 15 years, I am ready to get into my own kitchen at Happy Gillis and cook the food I want to serve people the way I want it served.”  

With all three of their children (ages 12, 7 and 5) now in school, Abbey-Jo has the time to creatively express herself. Back from a summer spent traveling with Josh, she is currently working on a re-do of the current menu. She plans to shake up the current sandwiches and salads to add a hearty grain bowl and smoked trout plate. She also plans to bring back the popular line cook’s lunch.

Abbey-Jo is clear that she doesn’t want to paint Happy Gillis into a box with the menu; rather, she wants to keep it open to interpretation, the seasons, the ingredients and her own imagination.

“I don’t want Happy Gillis to be a place that has to be anything. I don’t want to have to fit the menu into a box and make it subscribe to the rules,” she says. “I know that whatever changes I make to the menu, it will be great, something new and different, that feels special and genuine.”

She plans to roll out her new menu the week of Sept. 24. So, the next time you stop in for a bite of breakfast or lunch, look for Abbey-Jo in the kitchen, commanding the future flavor of Happy Gillis.

Happy Gillis Café & Hangout, 549 Gillis St., Columbus Park, Kansas City, Missouri, 816.471.3663, happygillis.com

Jenny is Feast's contributing editor for Kansas City. She brakes for chef's coats.

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