‘It’s gotten out of control’: Owner closes this Kansas City restaurant, blames crime (2024)

To hear Todd Johnson tell it, Waldo is a barbaric hellhole, a lawless territory where criminals pillage with near impunity.

The owner of Strip’s Chicken, a local fast-food chain, Johnson set up shop three years ago at 420 W. 85th St. It was his second location, after opening a Strip’s in Olathe in 2016.

Last week, Johnson declared he’d had enough. He closed Strip’s in Waldo, effective immediately. (The Olathe location and a Merriam location that opened last year remain open.)

“I had eight break-ins in two years, and the only reason we haven’t had any since last summer is because we stopped taking cash,” Johnson said Monday. “My store in Olathe’s been open for eight years with no burglaries. It’s very easy to see that Kansas City has a major problem when you just can drive 15 miles away and we don’t deal with any of this.”

Others in the Waldo neighborhood, though, don’t seem to view the crime situation as quite so dire.

“It sucks to hear what he went through, but that hasn’t been our experience in Waldo,” said Andy Doohan, owner of Mike’s Wine and Spirits, about a half-block away from Strip’s. “Running a business in the city, there’s just certain things you have to deal with. We’ve had some break-ins over the past 20 years we’ve been here, but I don’t think that’s indicative of Waldo not being a great place to live or work.”

Johnson has been outspoken about crime in Kansas City for a while now. He is known on neighborhood message boards for his rants about burglaries and robberies.

Since closing, Johnson’s been making the media rounds, ticking off his list of complaints about the city. In addition to the break-ins, he’s dealt with counterfeiters, with vagrants continually disrupting his business, with skyrocketing insurance policies caused by all of the above.

“I’ve never even submitted a claim,” Johnson said. “In two years, the insurance on our building in Waldo has gone from $9,000 a year to $16,000 a year to now, if I would have renewed in June, $22,000 a year. In Olathe and Merriam, we’ve gone up, too, but only by like 10 or 15% a year. The agent told me it’s because of all the crime in the area. I talked to two other insurers who said they won’t even write policies in this neighborhood anymore.”

The insurance situation seemed to put the ball in motion on Strip’s closing last week, but Johnson recounted a few other unseemly details for good measure. A few weeks ago, he said, he had to briefly close Strip’s after a woman ran into the dining room screaming that she was being chased by a dangerous man. Later that day a customer verbally threatened to rape one of his employees.

“Then this past Wednesday, we had a situation where we had to call the police because a woman had been in the restroom for over an hour,” he said. “She’d been doing drugs in there and made a complete mess. The next day, I was told by my staff that they didn’t want to clean up the bathroom — that they were concerned about fentanyl poisoning. And I thought about it for a second, and I said, ‘You’re right. That is dangerous. You shouldn’t have to do that.’ And that’s really when I decided it was time to close the restaurant.”

In his interview with The Star and with the local conservative radio host Ray Stevens, Johnson often veered into a more macro explanation of the woes that had befallen his restaurant.

There aren’t enough jail beds for all the criminals in Kansas City, he said, so offenders are arrested but let back onto the streets. He said one of the men who had broken into his restaurant — the seventh break-in — had also been identified as the culprit in 103 Kansas City burglaries in the past nine months. He said the Waldo Area Business Association’s security force was “completely ineffectual as far as I can tell.”

Natalie Nelson, director of operations for the association, said her organization meets regularly with the Kansas City Police Department and hosts a monthly security meeting where the public can discuss concerns. “We don’t want any business to close their doors in Waldo and hope to create a space where all feel welcome to join and stay,” Nelson said.

Johnson had a sympathetic listener in Stevens. But pressed by The Star for specifics on some of his claims, Johnson was soft on hard facts.

He declined to say which insurance providers no longer cover business in Waldo. He didn’t know the name of the prolific offender who’d broken into more than 100 businesses — just that a cop had told him that once.

Johnson was careful not to blame the police, who he said are doing the best they can with the funding they have. He said seven cops once patrolled the Waldo beat, but now only three do.

Alayna Gonzalez, a KCPD spokeswoman, told The Star that, “though it is common knowledge that we have experienced short staffing throughout the department, I can assure you that we have more than three officers that work out of (the Waldo-area station) at any given time.” And the robberies and burglaries Johnson mentions are actually down over the past four years, according to Kansas City police annual crime reports data.

‘It’s gotten out of control’: Owner closes this Kansas City restaurant, blames crime (2)

Like Doohan at Mike’s Wine and Spirits, Ted Nguyen takes a more positive view of the neighborhood.

“The stuff he’s said, it doesn’t ring true for me,” said Nguyen of Vanity Nails, also about a block away. “I’m probably more vigilant now than I used to be, but crime can happen anywhere. You just have to be smart and careful.”

Still, from a vibes-based perspective, it would be hard to argue that the city doesn’t feel a little more lawless these past few years. How else to describe the street-racing mobs and side shows — now a howling fixture of life in the Crossroads, downtown and the West Side — for which city leaders seem to have no solution? Or the coordinated waves of car break-ins that now ripple through neighborhoods like Waldo on a monthly basis? Or the frequent shootings that are scaring businesses off the once-proud Country Club Plaza?

It is also true that the UMB Bank branch next door to Strip’s was robbed with a fake bomb six weeks ago. And a half-mile away from Strip’s on Monday, a long plywood board had temporarily replaced a door at Andy’s Frozen Custard, following a break-in last week, an employee confirmed.

Goodbye to all that, Johnson said. He’s opening a new Strip’s next year — in Lenexa.

“I consider myself moderate politically. But it’s gotten out of control in Kansas City. And what does the mayor say about all this? What is he doing about it?”

Lucas didn’t respond to The Star’s multiple requests for comment.

Comments on the Waldo neighborhood Facebook page ranged from fond farewells (“My family enjoyed Yummy Chicken Dinners on Wednesday. We will miss STRIPS!”) to hopes for the future (“Maybe we can get a Jack in the Box!!”; “Bring back Long John Silver’s.”).

For others, the end of the Strip’s era in Waldo was nothing to cry about. After all Johnson’s posts about crime in the area, one said, “I thought he’d left 5 times before.”

‘It’s gotten out of control’: Owner closes this Kansas City restaurant, blames crime (2024)


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