New owners meld pizza business with non-profit art space in Westport

Mike Moreno, one of the new owners of Open Fire Pizza in Westport, says if you think outside the box, there’s no reason a for-profit restaurant can’t share space with and support a nonprofit arts education center. The core concept, he says, is “everyone eats.” He and another arts instructor recently bought the restaurant. They’re making changes to the menu to attract more people, which they hope leads to more support for the art workshops, musical performances, exhibits and other activities that go on in the backrooms.

Open Fire Pizza in Westport may look like any other small restaurant, but it has recently undergone a big change behind its front counter.

About a year ago, a local developer opened the pizza place in a big old building at 3951 Broadway, just north of Westport Road. The developer thought maybe some of the rooms in the back would be a good venue for a rotating art gallery and arts program, bringing traffic into the restaurant. But the pizza/art gallery/school idea didn’t seem to flourish and the business was on the verge of shutting down.

From the back of the building emerged the director of Art Closet Studios, Mike Moreno. He and a fellow instructor got the bold idea to buy the restaurant and merge the for-profit food business with the non-profit arts school.

“Everyone eats,” he says, explaining the concept. “

Moreno had previously made a living as a glass artist in Eugene, Oregon before coming back to Kansas City, where he saw a thriving arts scene. Now he’s splitting his passions between a pizza shop and an art school.

Here’s the plan.

The mission of Art Closet Studios is to remove the creative roadblocks that limit people from creating art. Moreno and his fellow artists are finding a lot of people in the area, young and old, who aren’t getting enough arts education at school or can’t afford to pursue their inspirations.  To overcome these obstacles, the Studios offer low-cost classes for kids as young a three, as well as classes for teens and adults, in ceramics, glass blowing, screen printing, music and more.

They also provide a “materials exchange center for community arts” in a room behind the pizza ovens. It’s a collection point for lightly used art supplies that are made available to the community at an affordable cost.

Art Closet Studios also has what it called “Kansas City’s only ‘all ages’ music venue. Several times a month, it brings in local and touring bands that appeal to those too young for the Westport bar scene.

Meantime, Moreno says the artists are reshaping the pizza space, adding morning coffee and pastries, bringing in local coffee from Broadway Roasters, and inventing new pizzas with help from the Broadway Butcher. They’re also planning a garden outside the space.

Moreno says it may seem like a lot of different things going on, but in his mind they all fit together.

“Our overall goal is to create a very community-oriented place where people can get involved, connect with each other but see a better way – eating better, connecting with the community, getting an arts education.”

In other words, “by supporting the restaurant, you are supporting the community.”


Art Closet Studios on Facebook

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