It’s fun to go online and read the reviews that local restaurants get from patrons both near and far.

I checked the reviews for Joplin’s Red Lobster, 3131 S. Range Line Road, to see what was being written about the place. Most of the food reviews were good, and some were even excellent. But some of these wannabe food critics thought the restaurant was a bit dated.

Well, that’s changing. Our Red Lobster is getting a major makeover. The critics were right. It’s time. The restaurant is about 35 years old. It was built when Red Lobster went through a major expansion in the 1980s. There are now 705 Red Lobsters worldwide.

I spoke with the general manager of the restaurant, Michael Flenniken, about the changes that are taking place.

“We are refreshing our brand to give our guests that feel of being at the coast,’’ he said. “The new decor in our dining room features Bar Harbor, Maine. The pictures are of actual places in Maine to give you that authentic feel.’’

In terms of tables, the number is the same. But some of the tables are larger, and that has increased occupancy. New energy-efficient LED lighting is being added. The light shines only on the table, which creates more of an ambient dining experience so that you can focus on the people with whom you are dining. It’s more intimate lighting. This will reinforce Red Lobster’s position among local restaurants as a popular date-night place.

The outside of the building also is being redone with a new exterior, new signage and a flagpole. The project should wrap up in September.

Though the update was needed, there’s another motive at play here. Red Lobster is part of the Darden Restaurants chain. Also in that chain are Olive Garden and LongHorn Steakhouse. Well, our LongHorn is brand new and is so busy it’s hard to find a parking space there. Our Olive Garden is one of the best-performing Olive Gardens in the Midwest. For Red Lobster to remain competitive with its sister operations, it had to get an update.

Our Red Lobster has had updates in the past, but this is the most extensive remodeling that has been done. About 300 other Red Lobsters are getting the “Bar Harbor’’ update, which started in 2009.

Here’s a little background on Red Lobster. It was founded in 1968 as a “Harbor for Seafood Lovers’’ in Lakeland, Fla. In 1970, General Mills acquired Red Lobster as a five-unit company. In 1995, Red Lobster, along with Olive Garden and other sister chains, became part of Darden Restaurants Inc.

Part of the makeover includes some new menu items. When I take my 92-year-old mother there, we usually order the same thing without variation. That’s because the restaurant is so consistent. We know what we are going to get. And the service is well above average. That’s why we go to Red Lobster.


Sometimes writing a story can be just plain old work. Sometimes it can be an adventure where one discovery leads to another. That’s the case with today’s story about the house that Art and Helen Boles created near 38th Street and Hearnes Boulevard.

I believe in full disclosure, so I must tell you that I have had a long connection to this house. As a small boy, I would walk through the woods behind my parents’ house to the Boles house. I remember one summer when I watched Art work on a sculpture in his yard. He knew I was there, sitting on the edge of his yard. I did not want to disturb him because he was an “artiste” at work. It was fascinating to watch.

Later, I would meet his wife, Helen, who did a portrait of me and my sister. It hangs in my mother’s home. Helen was a delightful person. She once showed me a skeleton she kept in an outdoor closet. She used it to teach anatomy for her art classes.

One time, some of my cousins followed me through the woods to the Boles house. I knocked on their front door, and Helen answered. I asked her: “Mrs. Boles, can you show my cousins the skeleton?’’ She went inside, got a key and unlocked the closet door. She turned to us as she opened the door to watch the expressions on our faces. Our eyes were as big as silver dollars. She was thoroughly amused.

Art Boles created another sculpture in his yard. It was called “Children’s Playpiece.’’ He called it that because children could crawl over, around and through it. I was one of those children. One day, I tried to crawl through the sculpture and couldn’t. I had grown too large. It was a transformative moment.

It was then that I knew that I was no longer a child.   

If you have news about something that’s happening on Range Line Road or Main Street, dial 623-3480, Ext. 7250; or send an e-mail to; or send a fax to Wally Kennedy at 623-8598.

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