By Kathy Feist
Where once diners ordered giant burritos and pina coladas at Mama Tio’s Mexican Restaurant at 80th and Paseo, customers now place orders for coffee and breakfast burritos.
The former cantina, which closed after 40 years, has been purchased, renovated, and reopened by a Marlborough couple passionate about enhancing their community.
Owners Diane Hershberger and Rodger Kube opened The Borough, a coffee shop and food hall that sells breakfast and lunch items such as homemade pastries, pies, cookies, hamburgers, sandwiches, vegetarian fare and ice cream. They incorporate fresh products from local vendors such as Broadway Roasting Co, Kultivate Coffee and Farm to Market Bread Co.
In a neighborhood with no nearby grocery stores and few restaurants, The Borough will celebrate its official grand opening on Saturday, June 25, featuring games, music, giveaways, and $2 hot dog lunch specials. The celebration was intentionally set for the day before Hershberger and Kube’s 34th wedding anniversary.
Hershberger and Kube have lived on a nine acre lot in the Marlborough district for the past 26 years. In 2010, they erected a 10,000 square foot natural greenhouse and began a year-round farm operation growing USDA-certified organic vegetables.
Stoneycrest Urban Farms, as they named it, was a regular vendor at the Brookside Farmers Market. They also sold produce to local restaurants and online. “It was a hobby gone wild,” Kube recalled.
While neither of them has experience working in a restaurant, Hershberger and Kube are no strangers to cooking. Kube, a retired pastor, claims he has 200 cookbooks that now cram his kitchen staircase at home.
Last year, the couple shut down their farm operation as they prepared for their next venture. When Mama Tio’s closed in 2019, Hershberger had one concern.
“We never wanted to be a commercial building owner, but I didn’t want to see it become another car garage,” Hershberger said.
Six months later, she and her husband were the building’s proud owners.
Herschberger and Kube knew what they were getting into. Thirteen years ago, the pair helped organize the Marlborough Community Coalition designed to help revive the area.
The once thriving business district, founded in 1900, was filled with schools, churches, and businesses as varied as jewelry and clothing stores, pharmacies, and even a movie theater. Old timers remember running freely through the neighborhood as youngsters, returning home only when the streetlights came on.
However, in the 1990s the demographics in the neighborhood began to change as original home owners passed away and their houses—sold cheap to outsiders—were turned into rental homes. The neighborhood became unstable. Businesses closed.
A current snapshot of Marlborough and its surrounding neighborhoods shows 65 percent of houses are rented. The median income is $39,304, and 75 percent of its population is Black.
“We want [the restaurant] to be financially acceptable to people,” Hershberger said. “We only expect to make back what we put into it.”
The couple were fortunate to have purchased all supplies to rehab the building before the pandemic had a major effect on pricing. They did, however, have to go through different contractors to achieve the plans that were promised.
In the end, the building was gutted, leaving exposed red brick walls and ceiling rafters, a polished cement floor, and two glass garage doors that can be raised during seasonal weather.
The 23,000 square foot open space is ideal for an event space. Already, The Borough has hosted a forum for the Kansas City Chamber of Commerce’s Centurions as well as staff from the Academy for Integrated Arts.
Hershberger and Kube would like to attract another chef/cook with a specialty in Soul food who can take over the third part of the food hall—as well as get general help at the restaurant.
While The Borough will never be able to replicate Mama Tio’s, Hershberger says she hopes it will become more like the TV show, Cheers, the friendly neighborhood place ‘where everybody knows your name’. “We want to provide in-person relationships, touch lives,” Hershberger says.
And like a burro—the animal kind—Hershberger and Kube are strong and stubborn in their conviction.