Hayward’s Pit Bar-B-Que relocating to Lenexa

After 35 years at College Boulevard and Antioch Road, Hayward’s Pit Bar-B-Que and Catering is relocating.

Eric Sweeney has been at the helm of Hayward’s for two years, purchasing the restaurant from founder Hayward Spears Sr.

Sweeney’s goal was to revamp the decades-old operation and return it to its glory days.

Now Sweeney and his wife, D.J. Sweeney, will shut down the location at 11051 Antioch Road on Jan. 30 and reopen at 12804 Santa Fe Trail Drive in Lenexa in early February. Kanz’s City Pizza and Burgerz formerly occupied the spot.

“For me the space was too big,” Eric Sweeney said. “It seats 225 people and I never could fill it up.”

Hayward Spears opened Hayward’s in the 7,000-square-foot space in 1981.

“After Eric took over he was somewhat taken aback by the size,” Spears said. “When we opened there we knew we would need every square inch and we did. But he is leaving with my blessing.”

Hayward’s has 25 employees and most will make the move. The Sweeneys said they also will be working with Aramark Corp., a food service provider to corporations and sports facilities, and they have been on the Sprint campus handing out samples in order to assess employee interest in having a Hayward’s dining option on the site.

The Sweeneys own the rights to Hayward’s name and recipes for the sauces and the rub, but have been leasing the building from Spears. Spears now has the building for sale.

He first opened Hayward’s in the Cherokee South Shopping Center at 95th Street and Antioch Road in 1972. Customers were lined up the first day. He moved the restaurant to 11051 Antioch Road, Overland Park, in 1981. His children didn’t want to take over the restaurant, and attempts at taking on partners didn’t pan out. Spears will turn 82 on Feb. 27.

“It was time for me to smell the roses. I want to do some things with my life rather than work, work, work,” he said. “The restaurant business is the toughest business there is. And I no longer want to be a landlord. It’s still too much work.”

Still, Spears said he will miss his customers.

“I have so many wonderful, wonderful faithful friends and no matter where I go — the grocery store, the gas station — they call out ‘Hey, Hayward,’ ” he said Tuesday. “I was getting on a plane and someone recognized me. He asked me if I had any ribs.”

Joyce Smith: 816-234-4692, @JoyceKC