Kansas City is known for its barbecue, and there are plenty of places to indulge in this local specialty. So how does an operator stand out from the crowd? Here’s how three of KC’s most notable eateries each deliver their own unique take on what barbecue means.
Jack Stack Dresses It Up
White linen is not something you would normally associate with barbecue. Paper towels or napkins often spring to mind when you think of nabbing the sauce dripping off your chin. Not at Jack Stack Barbecue.
This restaurant operator, which dates back to 1957 and has four Kansas City-area locations, takes a different approach. What if you combined elegant dining with classic barbecue favorites? Jack Stack melds those two disparate concepts beautifully.
Instead of down-and-dirty, Jack Stack transforms barbecue into a sit-down affair, a true dining experience in an impressive atmosphere, with dark hardwood tables and rustic chandeliers.
The wait staff, decked head-to-toe in black, do more than just bring a plate of the signature hickory smoked meats to your table. They’re trained not just to know what’s on the menu, but how it goes from the pit to the plate.
A fine wine recommendation from your server might seem out of place at other “BBQ joints,” but not here. In addition to its an extensive wine list, Jack Stack offers a full bar serving specialty cocktails, a selection of high-end liquors and a wide range of domestic, imported and specialty beers.
Jack Stack ignites a gourmet barbecue experience delivered at each and every moment, from the time you hit the door and smell that hickory smoke to your slow, stuffed, satisfied saunter on the way out. This attention to “white linen barbecue” has earned a congregation of devout worshippers of this experience.
Oklahoma Joe’s: Cookin’ With Gas
Oklahoma Joe’s opened its original Kansas City location in 1996 within a fully operational gas station. Yes, a gas station, with banks of gas pumps outside and a convenience store inside—sharing space with one of the best and most distinctive barbecue spots in town.
Forget the relaxed sit-down meal. Be prepared to stand in line and hover among cramped tables holding your brown tray of barbecue waiting to snag an open table. It’s all part of the experience of Oklahoma Joe’s Barbecue.
The lunch rush guarantees you a decent wait in line, one that regularly snakes around the compact dining room, past the aisles of candy and chips by the gas station checkout counter and right out the front door.
The line moves briskly, but Oklahoma Joe’s offers no apologies for the wait, and it makes no attempt to cram in more seating. The place celebrates its intimate vibe and rewards with barbecue that can stand against or above any in the city: Delicately smoked tender ribs, sublime sandwiches and the overflowing heavily seasoned bags of fries.
Oklahoma Joe’s cultivates this unique experience that literally has people lining up for more. The restaurant has opened two more locations in the greater Kansas City area, which also have lines for food. But they don’t quite compare to the charm and unexpectedness of the gas station-occupied original.
Getting Into Gates
Established in 1946, Gates Bar-B-Q now includes six restaurants throughout the Kansas City area. Like both Oklahoma Joe’s and Jack Stack, when you go to Gates Bar-B-Q, be prepared for something completely different.
First, be ready to order—immediately. As soon as you walk in the boisterous attendants behind the cafeteria-style counter will greet you with Gates’ shouted signature greeting, “Hi, may I help you?” That’s a trademark of Gates, along with good food and fast, personalized service.
And they mean it: If you’re not ready to order, they will jump past you and shout it at the next person.
If you go to Gates and haven’t had time to peruse the menu, don’t get flustered by the aggressive friendliness: Just shout back, “Beef on bun!” This brisket sandwich slathered in Gates’ savory, semi-spicy sauce does not disappoint.
Neither does the casual, cheerful atmosphere at Gates, where customer satisfaction is clearly a priority.
One city. One type of cuisine. Three distinct experiences. Each of these barbecue restaurants garner acclaim not just for the food they serve, but what happens inside the walls. The environment, the service, the uniqueness.
The uncommon experience makes each restaurant a desired destination for entirely different reasons. Each has its fans, and in many cases, advocates who have a loyalty to the operator that transcends food.
In all three of these scenarios, the experience reflects the brand. The establishments each craft a unique experience that resonates with customers—memorable moments that linger long after the food is gone. These operators all offer a lasting experience that transcends the everyday.
Matthew Fey is senior creative strategist at J. Schmid & Associates, a Mission, KS-based direct marketing and creative agency.