Barbecue aficionados around the country for years could be excused for not knowing that Oklahoma Joe’s Bar-B-Que was nowhere near Oklahoma.
No longer. By the end of the year, reflecting its now totally local ties, the restaurant will be called Joe’s Kansas City Bar-B-Que.
Oklahoma Joe’s, which has three area locations, has made several best-of lists in recent years, joining a handful of other Kansas City barbecue joints such as Arthur Bryant’s, Gates and Fiorella’s Jack Stack that have gained national recognition.
It also has had its share of celebrity diners recently. During President Barack Obama’s recent visit to Kansas City, a takeout order for about $1,400 worth of ribs, pork, sausage and side dishes was packed up and shipped out on Air Force One. Earlier this month, New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie and Kansas Gov. Sam Brownback left Oklahoma Joe’s with a lunch order.
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Jeff Stehney, co-owner with his wife, Joy, said the name change was a long-overdue acknowledgement that the restaurant lost its business roots to Oklahoma shortly after it opened its first area location in Kansas City, Kan., in 1996.
“It’s not a knock on Oklahoma or the Oklahoma name,” Stehney said. “We are super proud of our Oklahoma beginnings. But it has been 17 years that it has been 100 percent Kansas City owned. This will better represent the city as one of the top — I think it’s the best — barbecue destinations.”
Over the last three years, the company has slowly phased in the new name on various products.
In late 2011, the restaurant introduced Joe’s Kansas City Bar-B-Que Sauce — without Oklahoma in the name. Then, about 18 months ago, it came out with a Joe’s Original French Fry Seasoning — again without Oklahoma on the logo.
Now it has two new T-shirts — one saying “Quality Smoked Meats, Joe’s Kansas City Bar-B-Que” and the other saying “Home of the Z-Man, Joe’s Kansas City Bar-B-Que.”
On Nov. 17, menus with the Joe’s Kansas City Bar-B-Que label will appear, and business cards at restaurant counters will have the new name. Employees also will answer the phones as Joe’s KC.
Outdoor signs are scheduled to change to the Joe’s Kansas City Bar-B-Que name by early December.
The Stehneys and another partner, Joe Don Davidson, the founder of the Oklahoma Joe’s Smoker Co., opened the first Oklahoma Joe’s restaurant in January 1996 in Stillwater, Okla. The Kansas City, Kan., location, in a gas station at 3002 W. 47th Ave., opened in August that year.
In 1997, Davidson sold his smoker company and moved to Texas. Without an owner/operator on site, the partners decided to close the Oklahoma restaurant, and the Stehneys became sole owners of the restaurant in Kansas City, Kan. The Stehneys later opened restaurants in Leawood and Olathe.
“We want the name to more clearly reflect who and what we are,” Stehney said. “Same owner, same great food, slightly different name — maybe a better name.”