A conversation with Joe’s Kansas City Bar-B-Que

Rakuten Ready

Posted by: Rakuten Ready / June 22, 2020


Tell us a little about how yourself and how you got started with Joe’s Kansas City Bar-B-Que?

My name is Joe Barrows, VP of Operations at Joe’s KC Bar-B-Que.  I was introduced to Jeff and Joy Stehney, the owners of Joe’s KC BBQ, in 2006 when I volunteered at a charity BBQ cook-off they hosted.  We hit it off immediately and I became their sales rep for about 5 years before joining the team in 2011. It has been a great ride ever since.

What has been the biggest challenge for the company since COVID-19? 

Probably being a little behind from a technological standpoint.  Our business is very different than most and we had to find the right solution to accommodate our volume of guests as well as our operations.  

The lack of online ordering, coupled with taking credit card information over the phone really clogged our phone lines and caused many customers to get busy signals when calling.  We did our best with 4 phone lines per store, but it was a massive challenge.  

Joe’s has been working to get online ordering in place for well over 2 years and finally found the right solution. Luckily, we have been able to soft roll our online ordering and phone apps in May and so far are very happy with the immediate results. 

We feel we are well-positioned moving forward through improved efficiencies like online ordering and adding Rakuten Ready ARRIVE technology to help us better manage a huge increase in takeout orders.

What is unique about Joe’s KC Bar-B-Que that has allowed the company to adjust to the dramatic business changes since COVID-19?

Joe’s was well-positioned operationally and with our off-premise revenue mix prior to COVID-19.  Anywhere between 35-45% of our sales were already happening as takeout or off-premise orders.  Each of our locations already had secondary production lines in place for takeout orders, so that was a big deal when it came down to ramping up production and enabling us to meet demand.

What has surprised you most about your customers?

Our guests are fiercely loyal.  For years, they have called the restaurants to place orders, typically placed on hold for a couple of minutes and then they arrive, only to have to come inside the stores to pay.  They put up with a lot to eat our food, and we love them for that.  We owe them the best possible experience moving forward.   

What is one trend or change that is happening that you would like to continue into the future?

Curbside Pickup Service. I think the predictive arrival technology that Rakuten Ready offers coupled with our efficiency in food production will be a huge win for our guests, and possibly pave the way for a spin-off concept of Joe’s KC BBQ.

What are some similarities between competition BBQ and running a restaurant chain?

Competition BBQ focuses on cooking 4 items, timed perfectly, to be presented to judges in 30-minute intervals.  You all would get a real kick out of seeing a burly bbq cook with a tank top and flip flops wearing a pair of reading glasses, using tweezers, small paint brushes, and long cotton swabs fussing over every detail.  Our daily life is not that. 

However, we take the best practices of what we have learned in competition BBQ over the years and translate it to our stores.  

From competition cooking, we have created standards and practices to ensure consistency in our products, regardless of which store you visit or what time of day.  A competition BBQ cook will make a claim that they can cook a better slab of ribs than we can at the restaurant.  I wouldn’t argue that.  I would ask if they can cook 500 slabs of ribs in a day to a consistent standard?  Consistency to our standards is what we strive for every day.