Mike Donegan, who along with his twin brother made Kansas City’s culinary scene known for more than just its barbecue with their iconic Stroud’s pan-fried chicken restaurants, died over the weekend, a business partner said.
“Mike Donegan was a Kansas City restaurant icon,” Ed Nelson, president of KC Hopps Ltd., said in a statement. “He, his twin brother Dennis and a few other key employees and partners built Stroud’s into a brand known around the world.
“Not only was he one of the most successful and longest tenured restaurant operators in the area, he was one of the city’s great gentlemen. Kansas City has lost a legend.”
Donegan was 72.
Donegan got into the fried chicken business when he and fellow Kelly’s Westport Inn bartender Jim Hogan purchased Stroud’s in 1977. Guy and Helen Stroud started the business as a barbecue restaurant back in 1933 at 85th and Troost, but when beef was being rationed during World War II, they decided to start serving pan-fried chicken.
In 1983 Hogan, along with Donegan and his twin brother Dennis Donegan, purchased Oak Ridge Manor in the Northland and turned it into Stroud’s Oak Ridge Manor, a circa 1829 log cabin listed on the National Register of Historic Places.
The Donegans and Hogan knew of the site — which included a restaurant, house and chapel — when they were growing up. When the owner became too ill to operate the restaurant, they purchased it from her, against the advice of friends who considered the location too hard to find.
“We are the Cadillac of chicken... I’d say the secret to our success is the food, and large portions of it,” Dennis Donegan once said.
The Donegans later bought Hogan out of the restaurant and remained co-owners of Stroud’s Oak Ridge Manor in the Northland, as well as Stroud’s South. That location later closed, but reopened in Fairway in 2008.
Dennis Donegan died in June 2004 after a battle with cancer.
In late 2013, Mike Donegan teamed up with KC Hopps Ltd. to open additional Stroud’s restaurants, and KC Hopps in addition became a partner in the Fairway location. Stroud’s opened restaurants across the metro in Independence, Overland Park and even in Omaha. However, the Fairway, Independence and Omaha locations have since closed.
KC Hopps opened a Stroud’s Express in Lee’s Summit in late 2020, and another is scheduled to open soon in Mission.
Donegan retained ownership of the Northland location at 5410 N.E. Oak Ridge Drive.
Over the years, Stroud’s has garnered numerous awards, including the James Beard Award for Excellence and the Zagat Award for best Restaurant.
The restaurant has also been featured in national and international publications including the Wall Street Journal, The New York Times and Bon Appétit. Recently, Stroud’s made the list of the nation’s 31 best fried chicken places, according to Thrillist, an online publication covering food, drink, entertainment and travel news.
Jimmy Cascone, co-owner of Cascone’s Italian Restaurant in the Northland, got close to Donegan over the last several years as they frequented each other’s restaurants.
“He was one of the ultimate local restaurateurs,” Cascone said. “He was even-keeled and cared about his guests and cared about their experience.”
Donegan even helped out his fellow restaurant owners. When the pandemic hit, Donegan shared where to find the scarce to-go containers.
“There were no secrets with him,” Cascone said. He had Sunday dinner at Stroud’s just a week ago and said Donegan came by his table to tease him for ordering the hamburger steak.
“For an area known for barbecue, he sure did a number with fried chicken. He will be missed professionally and personally,” Cascone said.