Cityscape

Oklahoma Joe’s founders cutting final business ties

Oklahoma Joe’s in Kansas City, Kan.
Oklahoma Joe’s in Kansas City, Kan. The Kansas City Star

Oklahoma Joe’s Bar-B-Que’s founders have operated separate restaurant operations in Kansas and Oklahoma.

Now they are cutting the remaining ties as they grow their businesses.

Jeff and Joy Stehney, owners of the area locations in Kansas City, Kan., Leawood and Olathe, recently confirmed plans that they are transitioning to the name Joe’s Kansas City.

Now the other co-founder, Joe Davidson, said he will open another Oklahoma Joe’s in Tulsa in 2015, as well as two restaurants in Washington, D.C. He also wants to open a facility in the Tulsa area so he can ship his Oklahoma Joe’s barbecue throughout the U.S.

The Stehneys and Davidson 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.

Davidson sold his Oklahoma Joe’s Smoker Co. to W.C. Bradley Co. in the late 1990s and relocated to Texas. Without an owner/operator onsite, 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.

The Kansas Oklahoma Joe's has made several best-of lists in recent years. It also has had its share of celebrity diners recently. During President Barack Obama's July 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. In August, New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie and Kansas Gov. Sam Brownback left Oklahoma Joe's with a lunch order.

As for Davidson, he moved back to Oklahoma in 2000. He opened an Oklahoma Joe’s restaurant in Broken Arrow, Okla., in 2011, and another in the Cain’s Ballroom in Tulsa in 2012.

The Kansas and Oklahoma restaurants also have slightly different menus to serve their regions. For example, the Kansas restaurants serve smoked ham, while the Oklahoma operations serve hot links and barbecue bologna.

“While we come from the same tree we have slightly different variations in our recipes,” Jeff Stehney said. “But it became apparent that while I own the Kansas restaurants I don’t own all the rights. The value of my brand could get diluted.”

So three years ago the Stehneys and Davidson sat down and worked out agreement going forward.

The Kansas restaurants would change their name within five years.

Davidson could go ahead with his plan to take Oklahoma Joe’s nationwide, as long he did not open Oklahoma Joe’s restaurants in Kansas or on the Missouri side of the Kansas City metro until 2021.

“We do want to grow but Jeff said he was really content being in Kansas City,” Davidson said. “He is a dear friend and a great steward of the brand and has grown the brand. But I told Jeff, ‘This is something I own. You don’t have a brand to sell.’ And everyone deserves an opportunity to own their own business.”

Stehney said that as long as he is owner he just wants to oversee the three area Joe’s Kansas City restaurants. But he may one day sell the company with the rights to expand the brand nationwide. Still, under the agreement, he promised not to open Joe’s Kansas City restaurants in Oklahoma and northwest Arkansas until 2021.

“I don’t want a Joe’s Kansas City operating in Denver, Colo., out of my control. I need them to be close,” Jeff Stehney said. “If you want our food you have to come to Kansas City. We love Kansas City.”

Some products like sauces and T-shirts already have the new logo. 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 plan to roll out another restaurant concept.

They’ve been silent partners in Leawood’s Rye and consulted with their partners, Colby and Megan Garrelts, on barbecue techniques and smokers for the restaurant. Now the Stehneys plan to work with the Garrelts in 2015 on another restaurant concept, most likely a fast-casual operation instead of a full-service operation.

“They are so talented. Their accomplishments as chefs open up a whole world of opportunities,” Jeff Stehney said.

To reach Joyce Smith, call 816-234-4692 or send email to jsmith@kcstar.com. Follow her on Facebook and Twitter at JoyceKC

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