These chefs moved from Oregon to KC—here are their favorite spots
Husband-wife culinary team Johnny and Helen Jo Leach bring a pedigree to their new restaurant. Oregon native Johnny moved to NYC in his twenties, where he worked at such celebrated restaurants as Del Posto, Momofuku and Ma Peche. In New York, he met Chicago-born Helen Jo, the pastry chef at Momofuku Milk Bar. In 2014, the pair relocated to Johnny’s hometown of Portland, where Johnny opened a modernist Mexican spot called Chalino. Now, the Leaches and their five-year-old daughter, Perri Yoon, call Kansas City home.
At The Town Company, a swanky new spot in a downtown hotel, Johnny is the executive chef and Helen Jo is the pastry chef. The couple moved to Kansas City from Portland in March—just a few days before the shut-down—meaning they’ve got a lot to explore once there’s a vaccine.
What attracted you to KC?
Johnny Leach: I came out here for the first time two years ago. The city seemed vibrant. There’s a lot of creative energy and a tremendous amount of growth opportunity here. Seeing these great small businesses that are popping up and the art in the city—there’s a great footprint of contemporary art in the Crossroads and Westport. There’s a youthful vibe here. It seems like there’s a lot simmering.
What’s surprised you most since you’ve moved here?
Helen Jo Leach: We got here early March, so we had about seven days to look around before lockdown. It was a teaser. There is a good sense of community here. We live in Hyde Park and we’ve met some of our neighbors, and we’ve loved hearing about how things have changed since they’ve been here.
Tell us about what you’re excited for at the Town Company. What can we look forward to seeing from you?
HJL: I am so excited to work with Johnny in a setting where we both get to work with a hearth oven. It’s a new way to add a natural flavor element to our food and specifically dessert.
JL: What’s really important to us with the Town Company is that we’re treating the hearth as an ingredient itself. We’re also doing the best sourcing that we could possibly do within a Midwest scope, so we’re getting ingredients from the Midwest that pertain to where we are and the seasons and cooking them the best way we know how over Missouri white oak in the hearth. It’s about working with great people and creating a network of outstanding farmers and ranchers in the area, doing food simply and focusing on it being as delicious as we can make it.
GO: The Town Company is open Wednesday through Sunday, 5-10 pm. 128 W. 13th St., KCMO.
Their Perfect Day:
Coffee & records at Sister Anne’s
“It’s my all-time favorite spot, period,” Johnny says. “I’m a big record nerd, and it’s hard to go record shopping because you’re working, you’ve got kids. The shop is open at 8 am. Their coffee is always perfect and they have this amazing curated space with outstanding records.”
Ice cream & more ice cream at Betty Rae’s and Andy’s
“They’re two extremes,” Helen Jo says. “Betty Rae’s has that neighborhood feel, and it’s local and family-oriented and they’ve got great flavors, like their jasmine green tea flavor. And we love Andy’s. The texture at Andy’s is so great, it’s simple.”
Hanging out at Dear Society, the Nelson-Atkins Sculpture Garden and Janssen Place
“The ladies in there are always very nice, and whether we buy anything or not, it’s great fun to look around,” Helen Jo says of Dear Society. “We’re big walkers and we love walking around the Janssen Place Historic District.”