Dining like Mike: Mike’s Place owner builds eclectic establishment in Kent

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9/22/16 Mike’s Place

Samantha Ickes

Twenty-nine years ago, Mike Kostensky walked through the doors of what is known today as Mike’s Place.

When he opened the doors for the first time, the old building smelled of must due to being left empty for so long. But Kostensky knew the building had potential.

When the Country Kitchen went out of business and Kostensky lost his job, he explored the idea of owning his own business. His former boss wanted Kostensky to buy the failed restaurant, but he knew buying it would only result in the new business beginning in debt.

“Kent was not the place I planned to be,” Kostensky said. “But everything works out for a reason. Now I wouldn’t want to be anywhere else.”

Kostensky said when Mike’s Place first opened September 1987, the restaurant followed a country-dining theme, which was a trending décor theme at the time.

Mike’s began to lose its theme over the first five years, becoming the collection of interesting knickknacks and decorations that it is today.

It started when Kostensky’s brother gave him a license plate that said “ELVIS.”

Kostensky stuck the plate up on the wall, and soon after a customer brought in a bag full of license plates, which Kostensky also stuck up on the wall.

“Things just started growing,” Kostensky said. “Everybody just started dropping stuff off. You know, everybody sort of helped develop Mike’s Place in a way. There’s a little bit of something from everyone in here, which is sort of cool.”

A fire truck, a stoplight and metal signs are just some of the odds and ends that can be found at Mike’s. Though the restaurant has changed dramatically in looks over the years, Kostensky said one corner of the restaurant remains untouched from when it first opened to “remember where we were when we started.”

Kostensky said he has a great staff and some have been working at Mike’s Place for many years. Tobin Rogers, for example, started working at the restaurant as a dishwasher at age 12. Today, he is the senior manager. Kostensky considers him a “partner in the business.”

Rogers said the restaurant has grown significantly since he began in 1990. The patio and the castle are two additions since its opening.

“Mike’s always treated me really well, and I’ve enjoyed working here,” Rogers said. “It’s a good place to work. He definitely takes care of his employees.”

Kostensky said he often receives questions about the way Mike’s is decorated, which he said is like “dining in a junkyard.”

He wrote a book about how the restaurant began, which has not yet been published. Kostensky previously published a book titled “The Island of Macbeth.”

The spaceship outside of Mike’s was created after Kostensky tried to build a plane sticking out of the top of the restaurant. The plane was supposed to look like it crash-landed on top of the building, but the zoning laws would not allow Kostensky to place the plane on top of the building unless it passed a wind stress test.

Kostensky asked the zoning director if a spaceship would cause any problems if it were placed outside the building. When the director approved the spaceship, Kostensky began to build it in his garage with scrap wood. The spaceship is based on the X-wing starfighter from the “Star Wars” series.

“We kept building it,” Kostensky said. “I got some of my cooks to help build it, and we actually finished the things and brought it up here.”

Mike’s is also known for its extensive menu and wide variety of options. From “The Belly Buster” to “Geoff’s Italian Burger Orgy,” the establishment has a little bit of everything— pancakes, omelets, burritos, pasta, sandwiches and pizza, to name a few.

“It’s so hard to keep up with everybody’s tastes,” Kostensky said. “We’ve been adding new items just to try to keep up with the changes in tastes and stuff.”

The menu changes a couple times a year, Kostensky said. Sometimes the cooking staff comes up with ideas that will be put on the menu. He said one of the managers made a burrito and called it “the dirty diaper.”

“It’s amazing how many people order them,” Kostensky said. “I think people, they know Mike’s. They know what it’s about. You either love it or you hate it.”

Samantha Ickes is a features correspondent, contact her at [email protected]