YJ's Snack Bar is moving after 91 years at 128 W. 18th St. in Kansas City. The new location is a few blocks west in the former Sylvia's Deli space at 1746 Washington St.

After 90 years, Crossroads pioneer YJ's Snack Bar, with its worldly menu, is moving

On Wednesdays, YJ’s Snack Bar offers a $7 sandwich and soup special. Often, the sandwiches are made with Creole-style meatloaf left over from Tuesday night’s soul food dinner. Sarah Gish | sgish@kcstar.com
A jazz band played to a young audience in 2008 in YJ’s Snack Bar, a tiny Crossroads district eatery. File | The Kansas City Star

A big change is coming to the Crossroads: YJ's Snack Bar is moving after more than 90 years at 128 W. 18th St.

But regulars who live or work in the neighborhood won't have to walk far to get their YJ's fix, because the eclectic cafe is moving just a few blocks west to the former Sylvia's Deli space at 1746 Washington St.

YJ map

David Ford, the artist who has owned YJ's for 21 years, said on Monday that he's moving because the building that houses YJ's is being sold and he expects his rent to increase.

The news surprised Spencer Sight with Sight Realty, which is in the process of buying the building from Paul Hilpman and Carol Crater.

"Neither we nor the current owners have made any gestures about raising rent or asking them to move," Sight wrote in an email. "We are very excited about preserving the building as a hub for the creative community of Kansas City."

Several other building tenants, including The Pearl, a performing arts theater, and Oracle, a natural science store, said they're staying put.

yj's snack bar moving, oracle staying Facebook post

Ford, a pioneer of the Crossroads Arts District, also has an apartment and art studio in the historic Spanish-style brick building at 18th and Wyandotte, which was once used to store and distribute films.

YJ's employee Phil Diamond said the new location will be bigger and better and that it will retain its bohemian charm. He added that the business will be moving in the next 30 days.

Ford says YJ's stands for "Young Johnny's." The cafe has been in the same location since 1927.

When Ford took over the business 21 years ago, it had wood paneling and drop ceilings. He removed it all to uncover the space's historic details, then added mismatched vintage chairs and tables, art on every surface and a piano with a framed portrait of President John F. Kennedy hanging overhead.

The menu is inspired by Ford's travels. It features Mayan tostadas on Mondays, African chicken on Fridays and a Greek-inspired feta feast on Sundays. The lamb kebabs and Turkish stuffed figs were featured on Food Network's "Diners, Drive-ins and Dives."

On Wednesdays, the simple soup-and-sandwich combo is a popular lunch pick.

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Diamond said he's excited about the new location, which is closer to KC's Westside neighborhood.

"This neighborhood has changed so much," he said of the Crossroads. "It's not a very artsy place anymore."

Ford acknowledges that the change is "profound" for him personally. He's lived in the building at 18th and Wyandotte for 23 years, before First Fridays, the streetcar and luxury high-rise apartments arrived in the neighborhood.

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Over the weekend, he held an estate sale at YJ's and unloaded a wide variety of items, from file cabinets and tools to Mardi Gras decorations, theater backdrops and art. He said he plans to sell more stuff this weekend.

Ford says YJ's and the artists who gathered there over the years helped revitalize Kansas City's urban core.

"We created this buzz down here," he said.


After 90 years, Crossroads pioneer YJ's Snack Bar, with its worldly menu, is moving