By Kevin Collison
The much-anticipated County Line Ice House, a tasty collaboration between Joe’s Kansas City and Back Napkin, is scheduled to open tonight in the Power & Light District, just in time for next week’s Big 12 Basketball Tournament.
Jeff Stehney, founder of the nationally-renowned Joe’s, said the new 9,500 square-foot restaurant that’s taking over where Gordon Biersch once operated at 14th and Walnut will set a new bar for barbecue in the metro.
“We’ve got great barbecue restaurants in Kansas City, but I don’t think there’s anywhere people are serving it in a fun, high-energy sports bar atmosphere,” he said.
Every nickel of the $1.7 million spent renovating the former chain brewpub space was evident around him. The bar has been relocated to the center of the restaurant, bench seating is throughout and the style is old ice house meets new industrial.
“We completely gutted the interior dining portion of the space,” Stehney said. “We’ve taken advantage of the high ceilings to create a larger, open space.
“One of the mantras of our concept is to bring the indoors outside and the outside in. When we throw four different garage doors open, we’ll accomplish that.”
Inside, the Ice House seats 350 people.
Outside, the former Gordon Biersch patio has been expanded dramatically. The brewery tanks have been removed allowing additional space for outdoor seating. The patio, which opens to the Kansas City Live courtyard, accommodates 100.
The patio also will feature a retractable roof over about half the space. It’ll be open nice days and closed when the it’s too hot or rainy. Later this year, plans also call for it to be enclosed with transparent panels during the winter and heated.
The division of labor calls for Joe’s to handle the barbecue while Back Napkin takes care of the other food offerings, the bar and table service.
“Back Napkin brings front-of-the-house, full-service dining expertise and has experience with high-energy bars,” Stehney said.
Zach Marten of Back Napkin restaurant group, which also operates the Rockhill Grille at 20th and Grand, said his firm was thrilled to be partnering with Joe’s.
“We’re in a situation where we have to be going full tilt before diving into the Big 12 tournament,” he said. “All of us are used to a high volume environment.”
Joe’s Kansas City will be supplying the barbecued meats from two, 1,400-pound capacity smokers identical to those used at its other locations.
In order to ensure quality, staff from its three other outlets will be handling the barbecue operation the first month.
After training the new staff–80 people will be employed at County Line–Stehney said at least one Joe’s employee with five years or more experience will be on hand to help at all times.
“We need to continue Joe’s Kansas City’s quality,” he said.
Stehney also is particular about the kind of music that will part of the County Line experience. It’ll be a mix of country, Americana, classic rock, Texas blues and Red Dirt music from Oklahoma.
The ice house concept comes from the South.
Back before refrigeration, when people bought blocks of ice to keep food cool, ice house operators made extra income by selling cold beer. When refrigeration came along, the beer remained and food was added.
County Line plans to offer 10 beers on tap and 20 beers in cans. Because it’s so close to The Yardhouse and Flying Saucer, two places that offer a huge selection of beers, the Ice House is keeping things simple.
“We’re focusing on popular beers, not a lot of craft beers,” Stehney said.
The Joe’s founder is pumped about opening downtown and Ice House has a 10-year lease with the Power & Light District. Besides its landmark gas station operation in KCK at 47th Avenue and Mission Road, Joe’s Kansas City has outlets in Olathe and Leawood.
“I’m embarrassed I wasn’t aware of how significant the changes have been downtown the last 12 years,” he said. “I was aware of the Crossroads restaurant scene, but no sure I knew how close to the Crossroads was.
“Now that I’m here, I love it. I love walking around, the number of residences that’s exploding, Two Light and now Three Light…it’s super exciting.
Stehney, who makes his home is in DeSoto, said he and his wife have rented an apartment in One Light to be closer to the new restaurant.
“I love getting up and walking for a coffee,” he said. “It reminds me a little of being in college in a small town.”
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