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Family Sizzles – Restaurant work a tradition for Van Noys

by Kalsey McCall

The restaurant business runs in the Van Noy family. Mike, Debbie, Ashley, Rachael and Mikey Van Noy are indeed friendly faces to all who regularly visit Jess & Jim’s Steak House.

The Van Noys, who live in Overland Park, own and operate Jess and Jim’s Steak House in Kansas City, Missouri (Martin City), which has been a family-owned and operated establishment since its inception almost 68 years ago.

Jess & Jim’s Steak House opened for business in April of 1938, by two men who were the best of friends. Jess Kincaid and Jim Wright started their business at 135th and Holmes as a small bar and grill, until the tornado in 1957 moved them to their present location at 135th and Locust.

Jess & Jim’s has been a Kansas City landmark since the beginning. Known for its laid-back atmosphere and railroad-side location in one of the most historical parts of Kansas City, Jess & Jim’s has been a hot-spot for visiting celebrities such as President Harry Truman, Jim Davis and Dale Earnhardt. There’s even a get-well note from President Bill Clinton to R.C. Van Noy adorning the wall next to the cash register.

Jess got out of the business soon after starting a family, leave Jim to run the business alone. It was then that Jim hired his cousin, R.C. Van Noy, to host and manage the dining room.

Mike Van Noy, son of R.C., is the third generation to operate Jess & Jim’s Steak House. But Mike is not the only Van Noy who has a hand in the business. His wife, Debbie, and all three of his children work at the restaurant as well.

In addition, Mike’s brother David Van Noy, operates Jess & Jim’s sister restaurant, R.C.’s Restaurant and Lounge, just down the road.

“We try to have a Van Noy working at the restaurant at all times,” says Debbie Van Noy. “We want people to bring their tradition to our tradition.”

By looking at the Customer Wall of Fame, it’s easy to see that Jess & Jim’s is indeed a tradition for many Kansas City residents. Plaques fill the wall denoting customers who have been coming loyally to the restaurant for 35, 42 or even 58 years.

Mike Van Noy says his childhood memories consist almost solely of working at Jess & Jim’s. With R.C. as a father as well as a boss, days off were few and far between.

In fact, Mike recalls times when his two older brothers, Chuck and DAvid, would have to get up at 4:30 in the morning to come and clean the restaurant before heading off to school.

“I remember Mike asking for time off to take me to prom when we were in high school and R.C. wouldn’t speak to us for months,” says Debbie with a laugh.

“And it wasn’t that my dad was mean-spirited,” Mike Van Noy says. “It’s just that he couldn’t understand why anyone wouldn’t want to work.”

Needless to say R.C., who passed away in 2002, had a work ethic unlike most others. But as a result, more than the restaurant business was passed down through the generations of Van Noys. R.C.’s work ethic is a trait his sons, daughters-in-law and grandchildren posses as well.

“My dad always said, ‘Common sense and hard work will get you everywhere,’” says Mike. “I believe that.”

Mike and Debbie Van Noys’ children all work at Jess & Jim’s. Their oldest daughter, Ashley, 20, is a hairdresser by day and waitress by night, while the youngest Van Noy children, Rachael, an 18-year-old senior at Blue Valley North, and Mikey, a 15-year-old sophomore at Blue Valley North, work after school and weekends bussing tables and helping out in any way they can.

“We don’t have lazy kids,” says Mike Van Noy. “And I don’t think the kids would have it any other way.”.

The restaurant is like a second home to the Van Noys.

“It’s just an instant comfort zone the minute I walk in the door,” Rachael Van Noy says. “Not only are all the waitresses and bartenders like family, but so are the regulars. I mean, they’ve all known us since before we were even born.”

But even though the Van Noy children are no doubt hard-working and dedicated to their family’s business, Mike and Debbie Van Noy don’t take working to quite the extreme that R.C. Van Noy did. In fact, the Van Noys do have at least one passion outside the restaurant business – go-kart racing.

Mike Van Noy became interested in go-kart racing as a child when one of his father’s friends took him to Garnett to watch the races. As a child who grew up working and never playing sports, the event fascinated him.

Years later, Mike Van Noy found himself back in Garnett, watching a friend’s son race in the same event. The feelings of fascination came rushing back to him, and he found himself intrigued and excited by the amount of families there supporting the competitors. Mike decided right then that racing was something he wanted to pursue and something that his family could be excited about as well.

“I just thought, ‘I’m 33 years old.’ If I don’t do this now, I’ll never make the time,” he says.

Not long after, Mike Van Noy purchased two go-karts and began a hobby that would soon become a family pastime.

Racing soon became the only thing that could take Mike’s mind off work, he says.

Although the Van Noys would seldom take off from working, racing was a special occasion. The family would occasionally go to watch Mike race, even if they were away from the restaurant for a few hours.

Mikey has always had a need for speed, and when he was 7 years old, he got his chance. Mikey began racing just like his father.

And since then, Mikey’s racing career has taken off at full-speed. In fact, just last month, he was accepted into the 2005 Red Bull Driver’s Search and competed in Sonoma, California., for a seat on the Red Bull Junior Team, a training ground for future Formula 1 racers.

As it turns out, Mikey Van Noy’s future may not lie in the restaurant business. Mike says he dreams of racing in either the Formula One or NASCAR series.