Hickory Log’s new-ish owner is punching up the menu while respecting its legacy.

Photography by Laura Morsman.

A new owner for a decades-old neighborhood fixture faces a classic challenge: how to put a personal stamp on things while keeping the place comfortable and familiar for those who have long loved The Hickory Log.

That was the situation Clayton Wells faced in 2022 when he bought The Hickory Log, which had been serving classic Kansas City ’cue for nearly half a century to the neighborhood around 51st Street and Leavenworth Road in KCK. 

Wells has been running his own barbecue catering business, the Kansas City BBQ Bistro, since 2004. His cooking is also classic Kansas City style, but every pitmaster puts his own spin on things.

“I grew up near 34th and Kimball, not that far away,” he says. “I thought about how long this place had been here and what it meant to the community. That’s why I didn’t change the name.”

He also kept most of the restaurant’s old-fashioned knotty pine decor, only updating some of the lighting and furniture. Still, about 75 percent of the menu is based on Wells’ longtime family recipes and techniques. For example, there’s no longer any hickory at The Hickory Log. Wells smokes his meats over a mixture of oak and pecan wood.

“The oak gives you a nice, even heat and a basic smoke flavor while the pecan gives it a hint of that nutty flavor,” he says. “We don’t do barbecue; we craft barbecue.” 

The Roundup Sandwich (choice of sausage, ham, pulled pork, turkey or brisket), a longtime favorite, remains on the menu, and Wells plans to bring back another sandwich, the Jayhawker, from the old regime. He’s also working hard in the kitchen to replicate the old Hickory Log coleslaw, which the regulars love and still miss. 

Plates are served with two homemade sauces: a dark, sweet one with a definite molasses note  and a brighter-red one with plenty of spice and vinegar. 

One of Wells’ most popular additions are his smoked chicken wings, available with lemon pepper, Jamaican jerk or classic barbecue seasoning. More flavors, including honey sriracha, are on the way.

On Wednesday nights, there’s karaoke and specials such as fried onion petals and barbecue loaded fries. Wells’ goal is to get people to come for the feel of the place as much as the food.

“We want to be the Cheers of barbecue—a place where you’re recognized and comfortable and a family place where you can bring the kids,” he says. “A place known for great food and that makes people want to come here and enjoy themselves.”

Wells feels accepted by the neighborhood and the longtime regulars.

“They’re coming around and getting acclimated to the new style,” he says. “They still want that old coleslaw, though. We reassure them it’s coming.”  

Side note: The restaurant’s sign on Leavenworth Road sits next to a large, gray building with an imposing black wrought iron fence. That’s not the restaurant. The Hickory Log is actually directly across at 5047 Welborn Lane.

Check out KC magazine’s picks for the best BBQ in the area here.

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