The Edmond Sun

November 19, 2013

Kennedy helped build local restaurant dynasty

William F. O'Brien
Special to The Sun

OKLA. CITY — In the late 1970s Oklahoma City was awash in wealth generated by the oil boom, and some of that newfound wealth could be seen at the disco establishments Michael’s Plum and Pistachio’s. At both places, couples danced  to disco music amidst glittering globes and mirrored walls as oilmen who had recently become millionaires celebrated their good fortune by buying drinks for all of those present.  

Occasionally, the sound of a helicopter landing on a school playground near  Michael’s Plum could be heard and people from faraway places would soon be showing their moves on the dance floor.

And, a national publication reported that a Oklahoma City banker was seen by out-of-town investors drinking champagne out of a cowboy boot at Michael’s Plum. It was also said that cocaine and other drugs were readily available at both establishments, and that some of the customers who were not wearing expensive suits and tipping  generously were in fact federal drug agents looking to make a bust.    

Sed Kennedy owned both places for a time, and very often patrons would recognize him as the restaurateur who formerly owned and operated the “Across the Street”  restaurants on Campus Corner in Norman and in Oklahoma City where customers would place their orders from phones that were on tables.

Kennedy had also been vice president of the Steak and Ale restaurants organization. His son, Brent Kennedy, was a bartender at Michael’s Plum, and both Kennedys recently spoke about their experiences there. The younger Kennedy reported that he was making over $800 per week in tips alone, and that on Sunday night the Plum would be rented out for private parties for $20,000.

The senior Kennedy detailed how he took a fateful trip to Houston in 1980 where a friend showed him a  popular club in that city that had a country and western theme. This was the time that the John Travolta and Debra Winger film “Urban Cowboy” was popular, and Sed  Kennedy decided to transform Pistachio’s into a country and western themed establishment.

He hired a decorator who placed murals of John Wayne and other Western heroes on the wall and sent his staff to Tener’s Western Wear for western-style clothes. Soon patrons in cowboy boots and Stetson hats were two-stepping to the sound of country and western music at Pistachio’s, just as they had previously danced to the disco beat there.

When the price of oil dropped dramatically in the early 1980s, business at both establishments leveled off, and the senior Kennedy decided to sell them. The new owners eventually closed both places.    

Both men report that they still encounter people who remember them from their days at Michael’s Plum and Pistachio’s. But the  Kennedys are known in the hospitality industry for more than their disco days.

Beginning with his operation of the “Across the Street” in Norman, the elder Kennedy, who is now retired, mentored athletes and restaurateurs who have gone on to successful careers based in part on the guidance and advice that he provided to them. When he was vice president at Steak and Ale he offended many male employees of a recently opened restaurant by making a woman its general manager. The woman in question proved to be a capable manager and Kennedy’s confidence in her was vindicated and female managers in eateries has since become common.

Many of the people who worked for him went on to start other restaurants, including the founders of the Interurban and the Outback chain.

Kennedy always made himself available to his former employees who sought his advice.

Brent Kennedy is now a partner in the Hal Smith Restaurant group that includes the Krispy Kreme doughnut franchise in central Oklahoma and the Louie’s restaurants. Both Kennedys attribute their success to their providing quality food and service to their customers and the dedication and commitment of their employees.

William F. O’Brien is an Oklahoma City attorney.