August 1997 KC Persona Article
Jess & Jim’s Steak House
At 67, Raymond Charles (R.C.) Van Noy is a lively and hilariously candid storyteller, especially when the tales involve his cousin, the late Jim Wright, a sometimes gruff, hard-drinking character who in 1938 founded one of the area’s most celebrated steak houses with his best friend, Jess Kincaid.
Kincaid’s first name has been associated with Jess & Jim’s Steak House (517 E. 135th; 941-9499) for a half-century longer than the man himself. After enlisting with Wright to serve in World War II, Kincaid chose to stay in the military, and sold his share of the business to his partner for 25 cents.
R.C. joined his cousin in the venture in 1949, following a stint in the Marine Corps. As soon as they were old enough, R.C.’s sons – Chuck, David and Mike – helped out at the restaurant, too.
“David and Chuck used to get up at 5 a.m. to clean the bar before they went to school,” say Mike Van Noy, 34, who now helps run Jess & Jim’s while his older brothers oversee operations at the family’s other popular eatery, R.C.’s.
After a tornado knocked Jess & Jim’s out of its original location in 1957, R.C. and Jim moved the steak house a couple of blocks up 135th Street to a former dance hall and roller rink. The steak house was always popular, but a 1972 Playboy article by Calvin Trillin, extolling Jess & Jim’s as one of Kansas City’s undiscovered treasures, turned the suburban restaurant into an institution.
Today the menu is much as the same as when Jim Wright (who died in 1981) originally created it: chicken fried steak, a 30-ounce Porterhouse, breaded frog’s legs and a 20-ounce T-bone. The 25-ounce “Playboy Strip” was named in honor of Trillin’s article.
And after 46 years, R.C. Van Noy still understands what it takes to keep his customers happy: ”If you like what you’re doing,” he says, “everyone knows it.”