The owners of Leawood’s Red Door Woodfired Grill consider it a laboratory of sorts.
In the four years since the restaurant opened in Camelot Court, the owners have taken feedback from customers and fine-tuned the concept, rolling out changes there and at their new Brookside restaurant, which opened in late December at 6324 Brookside Plaza.
They’ve added round tables so groups can more easily converse. They use theater lighting (spot lighting the tables and food) for a more intimate atmosphere. The menu now includes comfort food such as fried chicken and meatloaf, as well as Chilean sea bass and Black Angus Kansas City strip steak.
The partners behind Red Door bring decades of experience in restaurant management.
Founder and partner Gary Zancanelli joined Harman Management after college, spending 13 years with the company. It had multiple Kentucky Fried Chicken locations, and Zancanelli eventually purchased five Colorado locations of his own, growing his franchise to 70 KFC and Taco Bell restaurants, including some in the Kansas City area. He sold his company to KBP Foods in Overland Park in April 2011.
His partner, Mark Kirke, graduated from Creighton University in Omaha and then earned a degree from the Scottsdale Culinary Institute before joining Houston’s Restaurant Group. In 1998, he moved to Kansas City to convert the Fairway Houston’s into Fairway Grill. He later was operating partner for P.F. Chang’s on the Country Club Plaza and then was promoted to regional vice president for the 57 restaurants in the Northeast division.
A mutual friend introduced them. They not only shared careers in the restaurant business, they both grew up playing and watching baseball, and both were involved with their children’s baseball teams.
“We were friends first, and we wanted to make sure we were aligned so the business partnership would work long-term,” Kirke said.
Some new customers consider Red Door Woodfired Grill so polished, they ask where the “chain” is based.
“We really wanted to build a brand for Kansas City. We feel we have an upscale neighborhood joint,” Zancanelli said. “That’s how we are branding it — food we are serious about but affordable enough, a place they can feel comfortable in and have fun. We just don’t turn tables as fast. Our guests hang out at our place for a long time.”
Woodfired salmon was a pretty popular dish at the Leawood location. But the owners noticed how one of their regulars, Dave Broderick, topped it with his homemade seasoning. Now the restaurant uses the seasoning for Broderick’s Black Magic Salmon, and the dish is one of their most popular entrees at both locations.
Gary’s father, Gary Zancanelli Sr., picks meatloaf for his go-to comfort dish. So they created Big Gary’s Meatloaf with a creamy mushroom-peppercorn sauce, also a top order at both restaurants. Julie’s Light & Fit Chicken (named after Gary’s wife, Julie) comes with grilled herb-marinated chicken.
To keep customers coming back “three, four, five times a week,” they also offer daily specials at both locations:
▪ Mondays: The Classic Burger is $5 all day.
▪ Thursdays: Fried chicken served all day (jalapeño-dipped or not). They marinate the chicken for four days, then it is hand-breaded and pressure fried.
▪ Sundays: Half-price bottles of wine — all of its wines, all day — and prime rib all day, 16-ounces, slow roasted then soaked in a whiskey marinade for seven minutes before it is seared on the wood-fired grill. The prime rib is served on toasted sourdough bread with Alabama-style white barbecue sauce or horseradish.
▪ Happy hour specials: 4 to 7 p.m. Monday through Friday, and 10 p.m. to close Friday and Saturday, in the dining room and bar.
The Brookside restaurant has an industrial decor and open kitchen. They commissioned area artist William Rose to paint a scene from the Leawood restaurant with Gary serving drinks, Julie in conversation at a table, and Colonel Sanders (in a nod to Gary’s KFC background) at one of the booths. A few staff members and regulars also made the cut.
Brian Holland of North Kansas City’s B. Holland & Co. built the bar and table tops, benches in the waiting area and booths, bar front and back, the railing, reclaimed wood cladding on the walls and the front facade, and a firewood cage on the back deck and inside.
A mezzanine level overlooks the first-floor kitchen, bar and dining room and can be booked for special events, including a recent 40th birthday party.
The owners also are “refreshing” their original location in Leawood’s Camelot Court, at 11851 Roe Ave., for the third time. Work is being done overnight so the restaurant can remain open. They will open up the entrance, put in new tables, chairs and booths, as well as new paint and lighting. It is expected to be completed by April.
Construction on a location in the new the BluHawk development is scheduled to start in April for an early August opening at 8001 W. 159th St. in Overland Park.
Future expansion, for now, will be in the metro as they build their brand.
“The city has so many great neighborhoods — north of the river, Liberty, Lee’s Summit, Lenexa. I know we have poked around those areas for our next location,” Kirke said. “Gary and I traveled so much in our previous lives, not to have to get up and get on a plane is nice.”