KC restaurateur remembered for hard work, compassion & love of family
The Kansas City restaurant, business, and civic community recently lost an iconic figure and friend. Restaurateur Manny Lopez passed away Friday, April 29 at his home, surrounded by his family.
Manny and his wife, Vivian opened Manny’s Mexican Restaurant on Kansas City’s West Side at 207 Southwest Boulevard in the summer of 1980. Friends worried he was opening in the wrong neighborhood and questioned how a small restaurant could hope to survive while paying 22.5 percent loan interest. Many small businesses did not survive the period when the nation’s prime interest rate, the rate given to the most credit-worthy customers, hovered near twenty percent.
However, Manny had the support of those who mattered most to him, his family and opened the restaurant despite the odds. “If he wanted something, he never gave up,” noted Kathy Lopez-Ritz, Manny’s oldest daughter.
“He grew up in the hard streets of Argentine, Kansas,” said son, David Lopez. “He did what he had to do.”
When Manny’s Mexican Restaurant opened, the restaurant could accommodate 55 customers. All five employees were family members. After doubling in size the next year, subsequent expansion increased the seating to 385 and the staff to 52 employees by 1989. Today, there are numerous Mexican restaurants in the Kansas City metro area. Manny’s was one of the first, and it became an institution in Kansas City. The restaurant served the recipes of the Lopez family, and the public loved it.
The vision of Manny Lopez extended beyond the walls of his restaurant. He served as co-chair of the Greater Kansas City Chamber of Commerce, was active in the KC Convention and Visitors Association (now VisitKC), and helped establish the Hispanic Chamber of Commerce. Manny was a dedicated member of the Greater Kansas City Restaurant Association, serving as its president in 1988.
In 1999, the GKCRA named Manny its Restaurateur of the Year. Missouri Restaurant Association inducted Manny and Vivian into the Association’s Hall of Fame in 2005.
Like most icons in the restaurant industry, Manny began at a young age in an entry-level position. Early work experience included working with his father at the Muehlebach Hotel in Kansas City, and preparing salads at the Hotel President, also in KC. He later worked at Regan’s Riverboat, which then became Westport One. There, he established himself as an artist in the field bartending and building relationships.
“I had the privilege of meeting Manny when I joined my father’s restaurant business at Regan’s River Boat,” Ron Regan, himself a past president of GKCRA and MRA, remarked in a note to the Lopez family in an online obituary. “Manny filled many roles in the early days (before) settling into his niche as bartender extraordinaire. He cultivated a very successful bar business with his personality, humor, and bartending skill. He was always dapper and always a gentleman. It was a pleasure to see him excel in his own (restaurant) aided by his wife, Vivian.”
Manny and Vivian’s children, who had assumed the day-to-day operations of Manny’s in recent years, will continue to operate the restaurant.
Manuel J. (Manny) Lopez was 77. Preceding him in death were a daughter, Debbie Lopez, who served as general manager of Manny’s for over twenty years and a brother, Reverend Joseph Lopez. Survivors include his wife of 42 years, Vivian; son, David Lopez (Emily); daughters, Kathy Ritz (John); Renee Lopez; Kim Burdolski (Jim); brother, Ray Lopez (Isabel); and sister, Mary Lou Rodriguez.
Manny also leaves eleven grandchildren, Libby, Danny, Kevin, Kelsey, Frankie, Sammy, Sophia, Joseph, Vincent, Rose, and Joshua. He made sure they knew to “Dial ‘M’ for Manny,” if they needed anything.
Memorial contributions can be made to Little Sisters of the Poor, 8745 James A. Reed Road, Kansas City MO 64138.