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Digital Archive: Joe Gilbert Restaurants at the Kansas City Municipal Airport


The growth of the Kansas City Municipal Airport, from humble beginnings in 1926 as undeveloped property along the Missouri River to one of the nation's busiest airports was paralleled by another company that found its roots in Kansas City's air traffic growth and would expand along with the airport and become a leader in America's dining and hospitality industry throughout the last half of the 20th century.

In 1927, with land acquired immediately north of the Missouri River in Clay County, Kansas City dedicated its first city-owned airport. A new, modern terminal opened in 1929, but within a decade, air travel had outgrown that terminal, and in 1939, a second and much larger terminal was opened

In 1940, after signing a contract with the city to provide dining at the new terminal, Joe Gilbert and his partner, True Milleman, opened the Municipal Airport Restaurant. The partnership would grow throughout the 1940s, expanding into catering and in-flight meals for the airlines.

The 1950s began a defining era for the company. True Milleman sold his interest in the airport company to Joe Gilbert, Jr. (Bill) Gilbert and moved on to new dining ventures. And, with this change, the Joe Gilbert name would grow to become part of one of the leading restaurant operations in the country. As the 1950s came to an end, the city announced bigger plans for the airport -- and the Joe Gilbert name would grow right along with the airport as the restaurant at the airport became Joe Gilbert's Airport Restaurant.

In 1959 the city announced that the terminal facilities at MCI, which had already expanded beyond the 1939 building, into a terminal annex, would expand that annex by adding a North Terminal Building. In addition, a separate restaurant building would be built connecting the two terminals, and that veteran restaurateur Joe Gilbert would retain the restaurant concession.

The 1960s saw even more significant growth for the Gilbert name. At the airport, Joe Gilbert (Sr.) expanded the dining facilities in the new terminal building to include the Weathervane Coffee Shop, The Magic Carpet cocktail lounge, the Lion's Den pub, and what would become a citywide destination, the Four Winds Restaurant. In addition to the dining facilities, Joe Gilbert managed all the concessionaire shops in the terminal.

By the 60s, the Gilbert name was also expanding beyond the airport terminal. In 1962 a Holiday Inn opened near the airport, with Gilbert managing those dining and catering facilities. And that same year, further south Bill Gilbert (Joe Gilbert, Jr.) and a new partner Paul Robinson opened the first Gilbert/Robinson restaurant, The Inn at the Landing.

As the 60s came to an end, the 1970s brought even more extensive changes to Kansas City aviation and the Gilbert empire. Thirty-two years after serving his first meal at Kansas City's Municipal Airport, Joe Gilbert would move with the airlines to the new Kansas City International airport. There, the Gilbert organization would own 24 different operations in the three horseshoe-shaped terminals KCI.

The era of growth that began in a coffee shop at a small city airport would grow into the
Gilbert/Robinson company, a dynamic dining empire over the next two decades.

(Gilbert/Robinson Restaurants Brochure)

Joe Gilbert Restaurants at the Kansas City Municipal Airport

Vintage Postcards from the Steve Noll Collection
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Menu Covers from the Joe Gilbert Restaurants at Kansas City Municipal Airport

Menus from the Steve Noll Collection
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Menus from Joe Gilbert Restaurants at the Kansas City Municipal Airport

Municipal Airport Restaurant  (Milleman and Gilbert, c. 1942)

Milleman & Gilbert Restaurant (Circa 1951)

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The Joe Gilbert Four Winds at the Airport (Early 1960s)

 Select Your Meal From the Four Winds Menu