Kaisers: New Lease on Life

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Angie and Kristen dip ice cream vanilla bean
angie, randy and Kristen
buffalo burger sign
chef prepares food
early days of Kaiser's
old fashioned counter with original tile
original wall photos
penny weight machine

Kaisers: New Lease on Life

By Tim Farley

Restoring its former glory and creating new memories for another generation of customers has become the driving force for the owners of Kaiser’s Diner & Ice Cream Parlor in Midtown.

Most of the focus has been to carry on Kaiser family traditions such as making ice cream on-site, providing excellent customer service while still generating new menu items that will attract a younger set of customers.

Still, co-owners Kristen Cory, Randy Giggers and Angie Uselton know they have a lot of work ahead of them for this venture to be successful. The Nov. 1 grand opening proved to be a good start with an estimated 750 people in attendance, Cory said.

Kaiser’s, located at 1039 N. Walker, opened at its current location in 1919 and was placed on the National Register for Historic Places in November 1978.

“The common thread is to bring it back to the way it was in the 1940s and ‘50s when people would bring in their kids,” Uselton said. “Since we opened, we’ve had a lot of people who remember coming here with their parents and watching the ice cream being made. We’re trying to carry on some of those same traditions.”

The diner brings back memories from the sock-hop era with large photographs of James Dean, Marilyn Monroe and Elvis Presley. There’s also the photos of the Kaiser family, restaurant employees and customers enjoying a big buffalo burger, a menu item that exists today.

“We’re trying to mimic the way it used to be,” Cory said, referencing the friendly atmosphere and some of the original physical features such as the pressed iron ceiling, the original bar tiles and the original mahogany fountain and back-bar area, with its engraved mirrors and stained glass cabinet doors. There’s also a penny scale that will tell customers how much they weigh and an old-fashion juke box with tunes from the past.

The fountain counter boasts decorative tile and the seating is early-American vintage. Large display windows open to the north and east. Above the windows on the east are stained glass windows from Italy.

Some customers also have shared with the new owners the relationships they had with the original Kaiser family, led by Anthony J. (AJ) Kaiser.

“It’s been really neat to hear some of the stories and what people remember,” Cory said. “We’ve had a lot of people come in with their grandchildren and they remember coming here as a teenager, and then we’ve had younger people who have never been here before.”

AJ Kaiser arrived in Oklahoma from Switzerland in 1909 with 50 cents in his pocket, a three-quart ice cream freezer and a head full of family recipes. A year after his arrival, he purchased a confectionary and ice cream parlor at NW 7th and Robinson, then moved the business to its current location.

The Kaiser family maintained control of the diner until the late 1970s. Since then, it was operated by two different owners before closing in September 2013.

Getting ready

In preparation for the grand opening, the trio of owners and their staff gave Kaiser’s a facelift and major cleaning, which is evident by its sharp, tidy appearance.

“So far, the response has been good,” Cory said. “We’re wanting to grow and grow right along with Midtown. It’s stressful keeping up the name and quality we’re striving for but we’re not going to settle for less.”

At 24, Cory may be one of the youngest restaurant owners in the city, but she’s not alone with this endeavor. Giggers, the head chef, has worked in the restaurant business for 35 years and worked at Kaiser’s the past five. Then, there’s Uselton who has managed restaurants for the past 25 years. She’s handling the front end “from the time they come in until they leave.”

Part of the plan has been to upgrade and update the menu, which for the most part has remained the same for years. While keeping customer favorites such as the Buffalo burger and sweet fries, Giggers has added seafood, pasta, steaks and several new salads.

“It’s definitely a bigger menu, both for lunch and dinner,” he said.

After the meal, there’s always room for dessert, which often includes the homemade ice cream, which includes a plethora of flavors. Every couple of weeks, a new flavor is introduced to customers.

Throughout the decades since Kaiser’s was started, the ice cream has been made on-site, first with hand-cranked freezers. The ice cream was made with rock salt and ice and hand packed in 36 flavors. During its heyday, exotic ice creams, ices, punches and confections made from hundreds of molds and frozen puddings were the specialties.

At one time, beautiful ice sculptures were ordered by Oklahoma City’s elite and by fraternities and sororities at the University of Oklahoma. The reputation of Kaiser’s pure products brought orders from all over the nation, including Johns Hopkins Hospital during the mid-20th Century.

New features

Customers can also enjoy Kaiser’s delicious food at their home or office thanks to a new catering service that’s been introduced.

“We’ll cater any size party or any type of food. If you don’t want to cook for the holidays, we can bring it to you,” Giggers said. “All the customer has to do is heat it up and eat.”

In addition, customers can rent the Kaiser’s building for private parties or other functions and enjoy a catered meal, Cory said.

The owners also are working on a mobile BBQ pit that could be available in the spring.
For more information about the restaurant or its catering service, call 232-7632.

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