Doing something a little new on the blog here, except it’s not so new because it’s how my writing career started 10 years ago: reporting! It was an honor and privilege to write this piece on behalf of the SHP family. You can find a condensed version of the story here.
On Summit Hickory’s Pit’s final day in business, April 15, the Lee’s Summit staple restaurant did something they’d never done before: They closed from 2:00-4:00 PM to take time to restock and give employees a break. They didn’t expect such a rush of love and support from the community after making an extremely bittersweet and difficult decision announcing their closing on Facebook at 9:58 AM that same day.
“Not only do we thank the customers but also the employees because without them, none of this would have been possible. We needed each and every employee that we’ve ever had that has worked for us. They’re the biggest reason why we [stayed in business this long], especially after the last couple of years,” Katy Birchfield, SHP owner, said.
After working together at Smokestack BBQ in Martin City, Katy and her husband Mike Ghani opened SHP in 1992 in a building off Rice Road, now home to Minsky’s. Five years later, Mike drew up floor plans for the building that has become a community favorite for the last 25 years, though originally Katy and Mike had their hearts set on the building that is now home to Third Street Social. At the time they bid on it in the late 90s, the building ended up being utilized by city hall instead.
“When building our restaurant, Mike wanted to have the center focal point in the middle at the bar for gathering while people were waiting. He wanted a big space where we’d be able to do large gatherings and family events for parties, and then a little bit more private spots [too],” Katy said.
Katy and Ghani always put family first, as evidenced by their designs for their accommodating building off Blue Parkway, which is now for sale upon SHP’s closing. This family-first attitude was not only reflected in their physical space but also in the way they treated their customers and employees. Their daughter-in-law, Genia Birchfield, became part of the SHP family as one of its very first applicants.
“Right when we were opening, she came in, and Allen [Katy’s son] brought [Genia’s application] to me, [and said,] ‘Oh my god, you’ve got to hire this girl, Mom!’ She was hired right off the bat, and they instantly started dating,” Katy said.
The rest of Genia and Allen’s story is history; they got married in 2017, and their daughter Bailey will graduate from Lee’s Summit High School this May then get her realtors license while taking classes at Longview Community College. The business was all in the family with Allen working as pitmaster, Genia managing for years, and now Bailey serving; but people didn’t have to share the family’s name to be considered part of it.
“Seeing kids that have worked [for us] — maybe we were their first job — they go off and they have kids; that’s [my favorite memory]. We get one generation, and then we’ve got the second generation, and that touches you,” a tearful Katy said. “You know that you reach people, but you didn’t realize that you reached people that much.”
That’s just it about the SHP family, they love people and people love them right back. Lou Loyd, manager and server, and Tom Lundgren, manager, became part of the family just weeks after the original restaurant opened and remained integral fixtures of the business for all 30 years.
“Because of all the unique people that we have, we have [managers] that were part of our team [that] all had their special bonds [with employees] as well. I think that that was a good way to give everyone support throughout the restaurant,” Katy said.
Other long-time employees included Steve Perkins, who helped things run smoothly in the kitchen for years, all the way until the last night of business; and Gayle Rutherford, who routinely served week day lunch and weekend dinner, including the very last lunch and dinner shifts. During dinner on April 15, customer favorites were 86’d one by one as hungry people made one last dinner order, including mac and cheese, potato skins, burnt ends, sliced beef, sausage medallions, french dip, and bread pudding.
“It was what we wanted. We didn’t know we’d go out on top like that. None of us had a clue,” Genia said.
Along with serving tables over the years, Amanda Larman served beer and signature drinks at the bar, and Jessica Riepe couldn’t resist coming to serve and manage at SHP after high school pal and long-time SHP server Lindsey Moore told her about her experience. Krista Gillespie found her home cashiering and taking carryout orders, and she was brought to tears as she bagged her last order on April 15. SHP was home, and former cashiers/servers like Haley Schauperl and myself couldn’t seem to stay away, coming back to work parties or catering events throughout their time in college.
“Reading what [Jessica Brown], Alana [Bloom], Haley, [and] Lindsay [posted], I could go on and on about all of them. You girls went on to be so successful, as you said, because of things you learned here that you applied to your life skills and your work skills,” Genia said. “When I think about people who have constantly been around — you weren’t working all the time — but we would call you and you would still help out.”
At the time of publication, SHP’s farewell announcement on Facebook had 1.5K likes, 648 shares, and 968 comments.
“You hope that you reach and touch people like they do you, but when you see that full circle, that really makes you feel good,” Katy said.
After retiring from the restaurant business, Katy would miss people the most, both customers and employees. She planned to keep in touch with former employees since they are like family, but she thought it would be harder to keep in touch with customers, hoping to see them out and about in the community. To her, closing the restaurant wasn’t goodbye; it was just a change in the SHP family dynamic.
“A lot of people you know you’re not going to be seeing [on a] weekly or maybe on a twice-a-week basis. That part was the hardest part,” Katy said. “The best part [of the final day in business] was seeing the love and the outpour from everyone, old employees too.”
After the unplanned afternoon break on April 15, the dinner rush came in two waves before the kitchen stopped serving food at 6:30 PM. With a line of hungry customers out the door, current and former employees were hustling and bustling through the restaurant like they always had, but what made this time extra special was three decades coming together for one final shift at the restaurant that raised them.
“That couldn’t have been done without everybody. It took everybody jumping in, everybody always supporting each other, just like the other night when we got so hammered and busy. You were able to lean on other people,” Katy said. “It’s kind of like when your family and your kids grow up; they still come back to help you out when needed.”
Katy and Mike felt the love as former employees not only came to SHP to have one last meal and say goodbye but also to roll silverware, make desserts, run food, bus tables, and anything else that needed to be done to make that final night successful.
“It’s overwhelming love, honestly. As we’ve said before, we loved our community and they loved us right back,” Genia said.
Though the restaurant closing is bittersweet for the community, Katy and Mike didn’t make the decision lightly, and they didn’t make the decision because business was bad. In fact, it was the opposite.
“We didn’t want to still be open and not be able to give 100% for customer service, for food products, for just maintaining and keeping everything afloat. We wanted everything to be top notch still,” Katy said.
With Genia in real estate at RE/MAX Elite the last three years and Allen starting his company ABG Construction, Katy and Mike had been discussing retirement for a few years with hopes of keeping the restaurant but letting it sustain itself. Like many other restaurants, though, the COVID-19 pandemic caused staff shortages, and they’ve been operating at two thirds normal staff the last two years, which isn’t much of a retirement.
“[We’re looking forward to] retirement. Mike’s going to build, and I’m just going to be his assistant with design and creativity. We’re just going to take our time and relax a little bit,” Katy said.
While they won’t endorse another local BBQ joint, Katy and Genia will be sharing SHP recipes for signature items and drinks, appetizers, all the specials, originals, food items, and desserts in a memorable cookbook with a few other tidbits in it too.
“[When they found out we were closing,] so many people said, ‘We need the bread pudding recipe! We need the beans recipe!’” Katy said. “They’ll just have to wait for the cookbook to come out. They need to be cooking their own [BBQ] and creating their own memories in the backyard; get their husbands set up and get their little pit going.”
Genia acknowledged that people won’t be able to replicate the original, even with the cookbook, but their SHP favorites can still be at the center of family gatherings and important milestones, just like Katy always wanted.
“[Going into the restaurant business 30 years ago, we expected] something we could build in the community that would be a place for everybody to want to come, get together, hang out, [and have] all of their special milestones in life with the family. [We wanted] it to be an extension of your own kitchen table,” Katy said.
Their vision for the SHP cookbook started a long time ago when they were just thinking about retirement. They plan to have it out some time in 2022, and all profits will go to benefit local charities.
In the meantime, many lucky customers walked away with the last bottles of SHP mild BBQ sauce, which used to be sold at HyVee and local boutiques but no longer will. Katy had 20 cases to give away, and they ran out early in the afternoon on April 15. Those who didn’t walk away with a bottle aren’t completely out of luck, though.
“[Soon] you’ll be having your own backyard BBQs with our recipes from our cookbook,” Genia said.
On that final evening, SHP closed its doors for the last time at 9:00 PM. Former employees will move on, like Bailey now serving at Lee’s Summit’s new Red Door Grill in the Streets of West Pryor, but the memories made over the course of the last 30 years will stay with them forever.
“[The last day] was the biggest farewell hug that you’ll ever have in your life,” Genia said. “How fortunate we were to be able to touch so many people’s lives and memories and be able to be a part of their story. Their impact on us was so amazing that it will never be forgotten.”
Mike, Katy, Allen, Genia, Bailey, and all of the SHP employees thank the Lee’s Summit community for 30 years of love and support.