For over a quarter century, a family-run restaurant famous for its fried chicken stood on the northwest corner of Shawnee Mission Parkway and State Line Road. This was at a time when Johnson County was mostly open fields and farmland. The eatery seemed out of the way compared to established local restaurants, but people from all over the Kansas City area flocked to the Green Parrot Inn from 1929 until 1955, when the restaurant closed its doors. Local politicians and Hollywood star and Johnson County native Buddy Rogers regularly dined at the Green Parrot Inn.
It seemed as if Tena May Dowd was destined to run the Green Parrot Inn. Tena May grew up on a ranch in Downs, in north-central Kansas. When Tena May was 13 years old, her mother died, and it fell on her to take care of her younger brothers and sisters and to help run the household. This situation fostered a love of cooking for Tena May from an early age. She married a local boy, J.B. Dowd, had a family, and relocated to Wichita where her husband’s job took them. It was in Wichita that Tena May decided to capitalize on her love for cooking. She operated a restaurant, also called the Green Parrot Inn, in Wichita from 1925 until 1929. The menu featured home cooked meals and the dish that would be Tena May’s staple for the rest of her years in the restaurant business; fried chicken.
J.B. Dowd took a job in Kansas City in 1929, and Tena May closed her Wichita restaurant. That same year, she opened the Green Parrot Inn on State Line Road that became a Johnson County landmark. The restaurant started as a three-room farm house, and eventually expanded to a large building that accommodated 300 patrons. The Green Parrot Inn was constantly busy. According to a 1942 Kansas City Star article, the restaurant served more than 2,000 meals per week on average.
The business thrived and Tena May opened two more Green Parrot Inn restaurants that family members operated, one in the St. Louis suburbs, and one in Houston, Texas. After the deaths of her husband and her eldest son, Tena May decided to close the Green Parrot Inn in 1955. She retired to a home on a hill overlooking the restaurant. Tena May’s plan was to redevelop the 16 acres where the Green Parrot Inn was located into an apartment complex and motel. Zoning issues complicated matters and Tena May decided to leave her house on the hill and move to the Country Club Plaza in Kansas City in 1961. Tena May Dowd passed away in 1973.
– Matt Gilligan, Johnson County Museum