Area restaurateurs donned their boots and tipped their cowboy hats to a pair of barbecue masters at the Greater Kansas City Restaurant Association’s annual awards dinner on Sunday.
The evening featured two keynote speakers, Hayward Spears of Hayward’s Pit Bar-B-Que and Rob Magee of Q39.
Spears got his start at Kansas City’s Bluebird Cafeteria, where his first paycheck was $30 for 60 hours of work.
“I only worked a few jobs before I decided that I was going to be an entrepreneur,” he told the audience.
His foray into the barbecue business was partly due to a local shopping center owner giving him a chance. Spears had started a commercial janitorial business, but his passion was barbecue. And it just so happened that one of his janitorial accounts was the owner of a shopping center at 95th Street and Antioch Road in Overland Park. A space became available, and Hayward rehearsed the business pitch in his mind and pictured how the shopping center owner would respond. Instead of pointing out Spears’ lack of restaurant experience, the owner leaned back in his wheelchair and told Spears to, “start getting your ducks in a row.”
“I hung up my shingle there at 95th and Antioch (in 1972), and lord, we were not prepared for what happened,” he said.
In a little more than a month, the restaurant had built up a bustling lunch and dinner business.
Spears told budding entrepreneurs to make a plan or you’re planning to fail. He also said: “Find something that you love to do and you’ll never work another day in your life. That’s Hayward’s.”
The paths of Spears and Magee collided when Magee purchased the former Hayward’s building and land at 11051 Antioch Rd. for Q39’s second location.
“He has taken it to another level,” Spears said.
Q39 embarked on a multimillion-dollar interior and exterior renovation, which added features, such as an outdoor patio and open kitchen concept. When Spears received the grand tour, he asked what happened to his former office.
“I told him I turned it into restrooms, and he couldn’t stop laughing,” Magee said. “I told him not to feel bad because my office is in his old storage room.”
Magee graduated from the Culinary Institute of America, but it wasn’t until he moved to Kansas City that he fell in love with competitive barbecue, he said. His success on the competition circuit inspired him to fulfill a longtime goal of opening a restaurant. To secure the loan for the first Q39 restaurant, he put up his house, savings, vehicles and smoker as collateral.
“Here I am, shaking, signing the papers,” he said. “Think about it, if you don’t make it, forget retirement.”
But as soon as he signed, his fear subsided and he focused on succeeding, he said. He told his managers to worry only about three things: food quality, taking care of the customer and restaurant cleanliness. It worked. Q39 has earned multiple national honors, and the two locations employ about 300 people.
Magee is searching for a third location in the Northland.
“Hayward, it was a pleasure to take over your restaurant (space),” he said to Spears. “I thank you for giving me that baton. That restaurant means more to me, that it came from you, than my original location on 39th.”
In addition to awarding nine scholarships to students pursuing careers in the hospitality industry, GKCRA members also handed out a bevy of awards that recognized local industry leaders:
- Bartender of the Year: John Radar, Pierpont’s
- Chef of the Year: Chevren Desauguste, Mesob Restaurant
- Server of the Year: Adam Goddard, Stock Hill
- General Manager of the Year: Ben Ferguson, Company Kitchen
- Employee of the Year: Michael Brown, Goodcents Deli
- Director of the Year: Mike Hutchings, Company Kitchen
- Sous Chef of the Year: Stacey Welch, Hereford House
- Workhorse Front of the House Employee of the Year: Dylan Watt, Blue Moose Overland Park
- Catering Manager of the Year: Tonya Round, Garozzo’s Ristorante
- Heart of the House Employee of the Year: Jose Ramirez, Nick & Jake’s
- Pastry Chef of the Year: Elizabeth Paradise, Story
- Rising Star of the Year: Jakob Polaco, Aep Restaurant
- Allied Partner of the Year: Angelo Cusumano, Excel Linen
- ProStart High School Educator of the Year: Jody Fowler, Liberty North High School
- ProStart College Educator of the Year: Dan Hoerz, Johnson County Community College