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How This Couple Transformed a Gas Station Kitchen Into a Legendary BBQ Destination Joe's KC Bar-B-Que co-founder Joy Stehney shares her restaurant's remarkable journey (and an offer to cater Taylor Swift's wedding.)

By Shawn P. Walchef

Key Takeaways

  • Joy Stehney and her husband Jeff started their restaurant journey as competitors in the storied Kansas City BBQ scene. After seeing success at BBQ comps, they took steps to open a brick-and-mortar spot by leasing a kitchen in a gas station.
  • Stehney and company have figured out the formula for ensuring catering clients receive good food and good service. Their goal is to be the best, not the biggest.
  • With regulars that include Kansas City Chiefs Superstar Travis Kelce, Joy Stehney is more than willing to lend their services to nuptials between Kelce and his superstar girlfriend, should they occur.

Opinions expressed by Entrepreneur contributors are their own.

Joe's KC Bar-B-Que was made famous by serving 'que from a neighborhood gas station.

But it's their dedication to the craft that has made them legends.

Joy Stehney, co-founder of Joe's Kansas City Bar-B-Que, exemplifies the true spirit of entrepreneurial grit and passion. Alongside her husband Jeff, a BBQ Hall of Famer, they transformed a modest gas station kitchen into a legendary barbecue destination that now stands as a beacon of excellence in Kansas City's storied culinary landscape.

The Stehneys embarked on their barbecue journey as competitors in the renowned Kansas City Barbecue scene.

Their success in BBQ competitions built a fanbase that encouraged them to begin a catering business. This led them to lease a kitchen space in a local gas station and partner with Joe Don Davidson (Oklahoma Joe's Smoker Company).

Their venture began with a restaurant in Stillwater, Oklahoma, followed by their iconic Kansas City location in 1996. Despite early challenges and a subsequent name change from Oklahoma Joe's Bar-B-Que to Joe's Kansas City Bar-B-Que, they successfully established themselves in the barbecue community.

"My husband had the crazy idea to quit his job and we're going to go into the restaurant business," Joy Stehney shared with host Shawn Walchef of Cali BBQ Media. "We opened our second restaurant in Kansas City in the gas station in 1996. And we've been going ever since."

Maintaining high food quality has been paramount for the brand, especially in its catering business.

Related: The Restaurateur Who Created a Safe Space for Celebrities to Eat in Peace in NYC

Despite her personal aversion to takeout, Stehney and the team have perfected the art of delivering exceptional food and service to their customers. Through rigorous testing and experienced staff, they ensure that their barbecue reaches guests in perfect condition, maintaining the high standards that keep people coming back.

"Good food and good service. It's so important when the food is going to leave the building," she explained. "We have great quality control at our restaurants and the food quality is the most important thing."

Joe's KC Barbecue has become a beloved staple in Kansas City, attracting fans from all walks of life, including Kansas City Chiefs superstar and Super Bowl Champion Travis Kelce. Stehney is ready to extend her hospitality to Kelce and his superstar girlfriend Taylor Swift, should they decide to tie the knot.

Related: How Do You Start a Successful Restaurant? Obsess Over the Tiniest Details, Says This Entrepreneurial Chef.

"I do want to say this. Travis and Taylor, I'll cater the wedding. I'll cater the rehearsal dinner. Whatever you want. Okay? Call me," Joy enthusiastically offered.

From humble beginnings in a gas station to becoming barbecue icons, Joy Stehney's dedication to quality and hospitality has solidified Joe's KC Bar-B-Que as an exemplary family business and stand out in the industry.

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Shawn P. Walchef

Founder of Cali BBQ Media

“Be the show, not the commercial.”

Cali BBQ Media Founder Shawn Walchef helps brands and leaders leverage the new Business Creator Economy with strategic Smartphone Storytelling and Digital Hospitality.

His Cali BBQ restaurant company has generated more than $35 million since opening in 2008. They operate numerous locations in San Diego and beyond.

Shawn’s weekly video series Restaurant Influencers (published by Entrepreneur Media and produced by Cali BBQ Media) has been seen by over 25 million people.

Want to be an Entrepreneur Leadership Network contributor? Apply now to join.

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