By Kevin Collison
Kansas City’s top-ranked barbecue joint, Joe’s Kansas City, is collaborating with the creators of the Westport Ale House to open an all-star, Southern-style “ice house” food and beer joint in the downtown Power & Light District.
Just two weeks after Gordon Biersch, a national brewpub chain, pulled out of its 8,500 square-foot corner at 14th and Walnut, Cordish and the Power & Light District landed the kind of home-grown tenant that many would like to see more of in the entertainment district.
It’s called County Line Ice House, and although the concept is Southern, its execution will be local by Joe’s Kansas City and the Back Napkin restaurant group, which owns the popular Westport Ale House and the relatively new Rockhill Grille, which took over the former Cashew space at 20th and Grand.
“The key is not only a new concept but the collaboration between Joe’s and Back Napkin restaurant group,” said Jeff Stehney, the founder of Joe’s Kansas City, the establishment known for many years as Oklahoma Joe’s.
Its landmark gas station operation in KCK at 47th Avenue and Mission Road is a pilgrimage site for barbecue lovers from throughout the country.
Stehney said after opening a third Joe’s five years ago, he was looking for a new way to serve customers.
“We wanted to keep the high volume, high demand character, but not to be a chain,” he said. “With the ice house concept, we’ll have full service and a bar.
“The entertainment district is a perfect location to bring Joe’s brand and then expand it with burgers, tacos and a big outdoor bar scene.”
All the food will be prepared–and smoked–on the premise.
Bret Springs and Zach Marten, the founders of Back Napkin, said the connection with Joe’s sprang from both entities interest in the Southern ice house tradition.
Back before refrigeration, when people bought blocks of ice to keep food cool, ice house operators in the South made extra income by selling cold beer. When refrigeration came along, the beer remained and food was added.
“The traditional ice house in Texas was centered on barbecue,” Marten said. “We had no experience, but thought about the best barbecue in Kansas City and talked to Jeff.
“We hit it off 1 1/2 years ago and our talks organically evolved about the concept, but not the location.”
Enter Nick Benjamin, the executive director of the Power & Light District.
“Nick reach out to us,” Marten said. “We told him about the concept and we liked the idea of using this space. We’re excited about doing this Southern ice house concept in an urban setting.”
County Line Ice House won’t be brewing beer, so the space occupied by the Gordon Biersch brewing kettles will be cleared and connected with the already large outdoor patio on the Kansas City Live courtyard side of the space.
“It’s a great outdoor setting next to the music stage,” Stehney said.
“In Texas, where the ice house tradition originated, these were public spaces where friends and neighbors came together to relax and enjoy some good food and music,” he said.
“We want to replicate that here in our town.”
The opening is planned for February 2018.