Pictured left to right are: Vicki Turnbow, Tony and Loretha Hayden, Mayor Mike McDonough, Anna and Gary Graham

June 20, 2020

By Sandy Foster of the Tribune

Tony Hayden walked into work one morning like he had for the previous 27 years, but that day was different. That day, 14 years ago, he was met with locked doors and a closed building. Just like that, the company he had devoted so much time and energy to, was gone. Tony was left wondering what to do with the rest of his life.

Enter Lutfi, Tony’s brother-in-law. Lutfi (pronounced Lou-fee) had dabbled in the food industry and was pondering the idea of getting involved in franchising at the same time Tony was losing his job. Lutfi approached Tony to see if Tony would be interested in joining him in a food truck venture in Kansas City. Tony, seeing an opportunity, said yes.

They spent the next two years operating the food truck. At the end of two years, Tony took over the truck solo. He ran the truck for another two years when Lutfi came to him with an idea for a franchise, Lutfi’s Fried Fish. That was 14 years ago and the rest, as they say, is history.

Tony and Loretha Hayden have owned the Lutfi’s Fried Fish restaurant in Raytown since 2006. Their first location was on Raytown Road, where they leased space. Last fall, however, they had the opportunity to make a move to their current location on 350 Highway, in the spot where the old Fun House Pizza had stood for decades.

Gary and Anna Graham owned Fun House Pizza, including the building, until they retired and closed that location. The iconic Raytown building was then listed for sale, which drew the attention of the Haydens. “Gary explained that the building had been in his family for years and he thought it would be wonderful to continue the tradition of a locally owned, family business right here in Raytown,” said Loretha in a recent phone interview.

“Tony and I prayed about it, and we decided to go for it! Gary and Anna have been great to work with. The building is bigger than what we had, but that has given us space to increase the size of our event room, which we call the Obama Room. We are very excited to be able to host 120 people in that space. The room is almost finished and will be able to open as soon as the COVID-19 restrictions are lifted,” Loretha explained.

“It’s been a rough start,” she went on. “We did our best to get the word out that we were moving to the new location, and we were just starting to get traction when the virus hit,” she said. “We closed our dining room at the beginning of the lockdown like everyone else.”

“We were offering carry-out service, but business was so slow initially that we decided to go online to get the word out that we were still open, and the community came through in an amazing way! The folks in Raytown, and our regular customers from all over the Metro, kept us going,” she said, “and we would like to thank them, from the bottom of our hearts, for hanging in there with us through all of this.”

The Hayden’s credit the fish for their success. “It’s Basa Catfish,” Loretha explained, “fried in a cornmeal batter. No flour is used in the batter, so it’s great for people with gluten sensitivities. We have a saying at Lutfi’s. . .It’s the batter that makes it better,” she said. “The catfish never tastes greasy, even when it’s cold.”

Lutfi’s Fried Fish offers many homemade dishes including macaroni and cheese, red beans and rice, greens, spaghetti, and green beans. They carry standard side dishes too, including onion rings, fries, potato salad and hush puppies to name a few. Additional menu items include Tilapia, Whiting, fresh batter fried shrimp and chicken wings.

The restaurant is back to normal business hours now, but not quite back to business as usual. “Since we are still in Phase 2 of the COVID-19 Recovery Plan, we can serve up to 50% of our building’s capacity right now. Some dining tables are closed, and all others are spaced 6’ apart. We have lines on the floor indicating appropriate social distancing too. We continue to operate not only dine-in, but carry out and call in orders as well,” Loretha said.

Lutfi’s Fried Fish is open 7 days a week. Their hours are Sunday noon to 6 p.m., Monday through Thursday 11a.m. to 8 p.m., Friday and Saturday 11a.m. to 9 p.m. Located at  9120 E State Rte 350, Raytown, MO 64133. (816)737-9599

Stop in for some catfish and be sure to say hello to Loretha and Tony when you do.