Geri Higgins puts on her pearls and joins us for a mini-getaway at The American.
Story by Kimberly Stern | Photos by Steve Puppe
Geri Higgins descends The American’s staircase, looking very much the part of an accomplished businesswoman, glancing about the iconic dining room at tables where couples, corporate executives and a group of giggly girlfriends are enjoying a rare experience. It’s the first Friday of the month, that magical time when The American serves lunch—with wine pairings, of course. After all, it’s the beginning of the weekend, and time to celebrate, which is the restaurant’s mission.
With Restaurant Manager Keith Goldman’s help, Executive Editor Katie Van Luchene and I have scoped out a prime table for lunch with one of Kansas City’s most acclaimed design entrepreneurs—Higgins is CEO and principal of Portfolio Kitchen and Home—situated near the restaurant’s floor-to-ceiling windows. R.M. Fischer’s “Sky Stations” rise high above Bartle Hall and the arches of the Kauffman Center for the Performing Arts shimmer in the distance.
When Van Luchene and I contemplated where to take Higgins to lunch, we simultaneously chorused: The American. The restaurant many consider to be Kansas City’s quintessential little black dress was a logical choice—a perfect backdrop for catching up with Higgins about the recent expansion of her Kansas City flagship design firm and showroom across from Union Station, in the Historic Pershing Building.
“We’ve touched every aspect of home design since I opened Portfolio over 10 years ago and this was the next step to reinforce the ‘home’ part of Portfolio Kitchen and Home, what I like to think of as a metamorphosis,” Higgins explains. “It enables us to better communicate the whole home experience through truly intuitive design.”
In Higgins’ world, a homeowner’s lifestyle is not a canned experience—she and her team continuously look for ways to elevate and enhance.
“Every individual is unique—when a client gives you the responsibility of designing something, that stand-apart element must be captured,” she says.
Growing up in Connecticut, Higgins was exposed to classic architecture and a way of life that embraced beauty and functionality. Treks to vibrant design centers such as Milan and New York City help her identify trends that eventually find their way into Johnson County and Kansas City homes.
“Good design is a journey, the beginning of which is listening and learning how your clients live,” she says. “Then you pay attention along the way.”
Executive Chef and General Manager Michael Corvino greets us as lunch is served, describing dishes that elicit comments of glee from Higgins, Van Luchene and me. He reflects on the success of The American’s monthly lunches.
“We like First Fridays,” he says. “It draws a different crowd, often people who haven’t been here before. A whole new audience sometimes is exposed to our brand and level of hospitality.”
We order dessert—all four on the menu—and conversation turns to Higgins’ deep affinity for Kansas City, which started when she moved into a stately neighborhood off Ward Parkway and became acquainted with next-door neighbors who would prove to be beloved tour guides.
“This husband and wife are dear to me beyond words—they took me under their wing and showed me the city they adore,” Higgins says, “which includes restaurants such as The American.”
Higgins recalls celebrating milestones with the couple at The American. “The ambience is delightful, comforting,” she says. “You know the food and service will be impeccable, seamless.”
As if to prove Higgins’ point, Pastry Chef Nick Wesemann, who never serves just a simple slice of cake, arrives with his works of art.
“Look at these,” Higgins says, fork hovering over one of the tempting confections. “Brilliantly conceived and executed, exquisite.”
And so our lunch with Higgins’ comes full circle as she subconsciously connects the dots to her passion for delivering the innovative and exceptional to her clients.
Main Course: Q&A with Geri Higgins
- Favorite style quote: “She always wears black, but has the most colorful mind.”
- Fashion go-tos: “Sentimental heirloom jewelry. Classic black. I wear it everyday. Bright shoes, classic handbags, things with a distinctive twist.”
- Indulgence: “I dine out often and enjoy KC’s amazing cuisine scene. Secret pleasure is Winstead’s cherry limeades!”
- Treasured possession: “My grandmother’s pearls. She had a drawer full of strands—some were real, some weren’t—but all were beautiful.”
- Word to describe you: “Authentic. People know when you’re not genuine.”
- What hashtag best defines your life? #workhardmagichappens