As a 13-year-old, Eric Sweeney got his first job loading wood into the pit at the new Hayward’s Pit BBQ.
On Saturday, he’ll take over as the owner of the 42-year-old Overland Park barbecue restaurant.
Sweeney, who will welcome customers with a meet and greet, said he plans to take the restaurant back to its “glory days” by using the highest-quality ingredients and local vendors. He’ll also add more entree salads using smoked chicken or smoked salmon and produce from the Overland Park Farmers Market.
“Smoke must have gotten in my blood back in 1972. I’ve been in the restaurant business ever since,” Sweeney said. “I’ve come full circle with Hayward’s. I now own it.”
Sweeney also had been a production manager at the famed Oklahoma Joe’s Barbecue and has hired a former Oklahoma Joe’s pit master, Roland Stephens, to be pit master at Hayward’s.
Sweeney’s many longtime friends from Shawnee Mission South High School and from the University of Kansas are helping out, including one as a contractor and another as a social media consultant. They also are pledging their support as customers.
Hayward’s, at 11051 Antioch Road, seats 221 customers and has a banquet room that can hold more than 140 people. Sweeney plans to add an outdoor deck later this year, and there will be a delivery service within a five-mile radius.
Hayward’s will have live blues and jazz on Friday and Saturday nights. Sweeney’s wife is local jazz singer D.J. Sweeney, who has also worked as a server at area restaurants.
“Maybe I will bring her in as a singing waitress,” Sweeney said.
And founder Hayward Spears Sr. will still serve as a consultant and the “face” of the barbecue, Sweeney said.
Spears learned how to barbecue from his father over a backyard pit at the family farm near Hope, Ark. He opened Hayward’s in the Cherokee South Shopping Center at 95th Street and Antioch Road in 1972. Customers were lined up the first day.
Spears later moved the restaurant to Antioch Road and College Boulevard. When the couple’s three children were teenagers, they began working in the restaurant, but none wanted to take over the business. He also tried bringing in partners, but that didn’t work out.
Sweeney says the brand name is still strong.
“This is what we are going to put on our shirts: Old school Hayward’s for the 21st century taste,” Sweeney said.