Barbecue is a way of life. It gives sustenance, brings people together, provides a living and much more. Husband-and-wife owners Katy Birchfield and Mike Ghani of Lee’s Summit, Missouri, have been living the barbecue life for more than 25 years.
The pair opened Summit Hickory Pit BBQ in 1992 and are preparing to ring in their 25th anniversary next month with a weeklong celebration of events and specials. From Oct. 22 through Oct. 28, the restaurant will hold raffles – prizes include a year’s worth of barbecue; specials on appetizers, cocktails and barbecue; and throwback prices on some of the restaurant’s menu items.
The restaurant has grown with the community, and many locals have grown up in the restaurant. Customers who were kids in the ‘90s are now having their rehearsal dinners and anniversary parties in the dining room. High-school and college kids got their first jobs at the restaurant, and now their kids are growing up under its roof.
When Birchfield and Ghani met, they both were working at a barbecue restaurant while attending school for nursing and architecture, respectively. The industry brought them together and has been a part of their daily affairs ever since.
“We pulled ourselves out of school to do this,” Birchfield says. “We [opened the restaurant] so we could both work and be together.”
Summit Hickory BBQ is certainly a family affair. The couple’s son, Allen, manages and helps run the kitchen, and he met his wife – current manager, Genia – at the restaurant. Not all family are blood relatives, though: There are employees who have been with the restaurant since its opening and become a part of the Summit Hickory BBQ family.
The restaurant is known for classic Kansas City-barbecue staples such as burnt ends and spareribs. But there is truly something for everyone across its expansive menu.
“Our baked beans, we’ve been told are some of the best in Kansas City,” Birchfield says. “Not only do we have barbecue, but we also have smoked fish and steaks. We do French dip and corned beef sandwiches ¬– we have a bit of variety.”
Much of the barbecue can also be found in nontraditional formats such as pulled-pork nachos, a burnt end sub and shepherd’s pie, which is filled with pulled pork and topped with mashed potatoes and fried jalapeño onion straws.
Allen is the pitmaster, and he smokes all the meats from beginning to end in the restaurant’s original, authentic brick pits. While most barbecue joints will smoke meats and then transfer them to the oven to finish cooking, he keeps the meats in the pit until it’s carved and immediately served on your plate. All the meats are smoked over a wood blend of hickory, oak and fruit trees. If you get a sampling of menu items, you’ll notice slight variations of the smoke flavors – that’s because Allen fine-tunes the blends according to each meat. For instance, the fish gets smoked with a blend of wood that has more fruit trees compared to other meats. This attention to detail and craftsmanship isn’t something that happens overnight; he’s honed it though decades of practice.
As Summit Hickory Pit BBQ celebrates its 25th anniversary, remember that you never get the full story from just the delicious barbecue served. From leaving school to spend more time together to the coming-of-age tales for many employees and customers, the impact this restaurant has had runs deeps and extends beyond just the owners. What may be a surprising story to some is really just the barbecue life to others.
Summit Hickory Pit BBQ, 1012 SE Blue Parkway, Lee's Summit, Missouri, 816.246.4434, thesummithickorypitbbq.com