Famed Justus Drugstore restaurant will open in Kansas City with ‘extensive tastings’

File photo by TAMMY LJUNGBLAD/tlungblad@kcstar.com

Justus Drugstore is making a comeback but under a different concept than the original Smithville restaurant.

James Beard-nominated chef Jonathan Justus and his wife, Camille Eklof, drew customers from across the metro for their “farm-to-table, nose-to-tail” menu.

They later sold the building and closed the restaurant. Then they operated Black Dirt in the South Plaza for nearly two years before closing in late 2019.

They have been hosting private dinners in their Paradise, Missouri, home. Justus also has been consulting while Eklof has worked part time at a local restaurant.

One version of the home dinners is Justus’ four-course family-style event. The other version, which the couple do together, is for a dozen customers for 10 to 12 courses.

Both dinners are trial runs for the new Justus Drugstore concept.

“The restaurant world is our family, is our life,” he said. “Getting back into the business with the restaurant people, who have always supported us, and our clientele is like having our family back.”

They plan to open in a small restaurant space in midtown’s Hyde Park area in March or April. They will pick one of three spots offered by a local property owner — a big fan of Justus Drugstore.

The new Justus Drugstore will tentatively be open for dinner Wednesdays through Sundays. The menu will be posted online, and customers will prepay. Wednesdays will be the four-course family-style dinner with a monthly theme, perhaps 1920 New Orleans or Spanish tapas.

The other nights will be tastings of 10 to 12 courses using many seasonal ingredients.

“When people come to eat it is going to be a very intimate experience. Extensive tastings most nights,” Justus said.

A bar and lounge room will have later hours and seat 24 people.

Justus Drugstore originally opened in downtown Smithville in 2007.

Justus said his great-great-grandfather once had a harness shop on the property. His grandfather relocated his Justus Drugstore to a new building on the site in 1955.

Another drugstore shut down in the building in mid-2006, just when Justus and Eklof were returning from working in France and were looking at various major cities to open a restaurant.

“During the early days of the Drugstore we slept there a lot on a blowup mattress,” Justus said. “I couldn’t afford to pay people overtime to do prep. So I would be doing it until 3 a.m. and then set an alarm for 5 or 6 and get up to put braised meat in the oven and go back to bed. Sometimes the staff would come in and wake us up. It was weird. Like people coming into our bedroom.”