The secrets of Mike’s place

Robert Taylor

Patrons of Mike’s Place can sit and eat their meals inside a gutted 1947 twin coach bus that was built in Kent.

Tara Raftovich | Daily Kent Stater

Credit: Ron Soltys

The first thing you will notice while eating at Mike’s Place, a fixture of Kent for the past 20 years, is that you are surrounded by stuff. A lot of stuff.

Where does it all come from?

“Most of it is donated,” said Mike Kostensky, the owner and namesake of Mike’s Place. “And it’s not just junk either — I could have a great field day on eBay if I wanted to.”

If you are curious as to how that X-Wing fighter made it into the parking lot or why there are spatula weapons in the castle, look no further.

The X-Wing Fighter

Sitting next to the front entrance of Mike’s Place, often wrapped in Christmas lights, is a life-size replica of an X-Wing fighter from the Star Wars films. But the most recognizable fixture of the restaurant was never supposed to be there.

Originally, Kostensky wanted a B-17 bomber plane exploding out of the roof of Mike’s Place, but after going to the city of Kent’s building department, he found out there would be too many structural problems. So he decided to build an X-Wing Fighter and put it in the parking lot.

“It was about eight years ago, back when I drank too much,” Kostensky joked. “Some friends and I built it in my barn and it took three months to finish it.”

Today, Star Wars fans are drawn to the X-Wing fighter like TIE fighters to the Death Star. Many come in costume wanting their picture taken next to the ship, and Kostensky has begun to lock the doors to the X-Wing — but not for the reason you think.

“I’ve had to lock the doors because children keep putting stuffed animals in the cockpit!” Kostensky said. “They don’t get in, they put their animals in and I find them later. I don’t get it; maybe they want to give their animals a ride.”

The Yellow Trailer

A small trailer sits on the edge of the property, painted completely yellow except for red letters that encourage passersby to “Eat Here,” with an arrow pointing toward the restaurant.

“That’s simple enough,” Kostensky said. “The trailer was sitting in my yard, and my wife wanted it gone pronto, so we painted it yellow and brought it here.”

Debbie Kostensky, Mike’s wife, is just grateful the relics aren’t in her living room.

“I’m just so happy it isn’t at my house,” she said. “He collects all this stuff, and I couldn’t imagine what life would be like if we didn’t have it.”

Elvis

If you have the pleasure of sitting in the booth nearest to the hamburger and cheeseburger buffet, you may find yourself feeling like you are being watched.

You are.

Standing atop a large booth in the center of the room is a dummy Elvis in costume, staring down at your booth, which might seem rather unsettling.

“We got the suit from a band I was in, so we call him FauxElvis,” Kostensky said. “It’s been up there for years unwashed, and I’m glad it isn’t smelling.”

Kostensky also wanted to put bacon in Elvis’ hand, but didn’t like the idea of replacing it so often.

Soapboxes

Hanging in various positions above the patrons of Mike’s Place are Soap Box Derby racer cars that were hung after Kostensky sponsored children in various races.

“I think those little derby racers are so adorable,” said graduate student Gwen Jimerre, a frequenter of the restaurant. “When I’m eating, I just keep noticing how cleverly designed and executed they are and the work that must go into them.”

One racer, a mostly black one hanging near Elvis, was found one morning outside the back door to the restaurant, the person dropping it off probably believing the orphan racer would find a good home at Mike’s Place.

License Plates

The walls of Mike’s Place are plastered with license plates from all 50 states, many of them personalized, and it all began with one plate affixed to the central booth in Mike’s Place that Elvis stands upon.

That plate, fittingly enough, is personalized to say ELVIS.

“After that plate was put up people just started bringing them, and I kept taking them,” Kostensky said. “Soon they were just all over the place.”

The plates are Debbie Kostensky’s favorite part of the restaurant because patrons have added them, including one license plate inscribed with HOPE, which is the name of her and Mike’s daughter.

The Bus

There is a bus parked inside Mike’s Place, hollowed out and filled with tables and chairs for patrons to dine in. The bus has a history with the city — it’s a 1947 twin coach bus that was built in Kent.

“I originally wanted to buy a fire engine,” Kostensky admitted. “But when I went down to get it, I ended up buying this bus instead because it has so much local history. It took us three weeks to convert it, remove the engine and gas tank.”

On the bus is Kostensky’s favorite hidden treasure of the restaurant: a painted World War II-style pin-up girl Kostensky jokes is based on his mother-in-law. It’s hidden between the bus and the back of a booth in the bar section of Mike’s Place, so look closely — you might miss it.

The Castle

Yes, the entertainment hall at first just seems to be a mock-up of a large castle, but look closer and you’ll see that the seals on the walls are made from pizza plates and the weapons from kitchen utensils, such as spatulas. It’s a food castle.

Oddly enough, with all the accessories literally hanging around Mike’s Place, one might think stealing would be a big problem.

“Everything is screwed to the wall now,” Kostensky said. “But back when we had a third shift into the small hours of the morning, it was a major problem with people walking off with a lot of stuff.”

Contact public affairs reporter Robert Taylor at [email protected]