‘If you knew him, you loved him’: Mike Zarda, co-founder of Zarda Bar-B-Q, dies at 72

A Facebook post announced the death of Zarda’s Bar-B-Q co-founder Mike Zarda.
A Facebook post announced the death of Zarda’s Bar-B-Q co-founder Mike Zarda.

Mike Zarda, one of the co-founders of Zarda Bar-B-Q who helped sustain his family’s restaurant legacy in the Kansas City area for more than four decades, died Sunday at age 72.

Mike Zarda’s niece Jennifer Zarda said he was larger than life.

“He had a booming voice and a huge heart, and if you knew him, you loved him,” Jennifer Zarda said.

Brothers Mike, Steve and Jerry founded the business in 1976 in Blue Springs. A location in Lenexa opened three years later.

Mike and Steve Zarda continued to be co-owners after Jerry Zarda died in 1985.

Last year, Zarda won The Star’s barbecue burnt ends contest.

Jennifer Zarda said Mike Zarda worked hard to make the family proud and keep the family tradition of having a restaurant alive. Mike and Steve Zarda were also dedicated to supporting local communities, she said, often donating food to various causes.

Last week Zarda employees delivered trays of food to Linwood, where a tornado cause widespread destruction.

Mike Zarda leaves behind his wife, six children and stepchildren and several grandchildren.

“My uncle Mike was an awesome dad and grandfather,” Jennifer Zarda said.

She said Mike Zarda had faced health problems but still had a presence in the business, primarily at the Blue Springs location, until his death. A Facebook post on the company’s page said he died after a brief illness.

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Katie Moore covers crime and justice issues for The Star. She is a University of Kansas graduate and was previously a reporter in her hometown of Topeka, Kansas.