The Stockyards District was the original downtown Kansas City—it’s what the city was all about. Kansas City barbecue started here in the West Bottoms. Well, here and 18th Street.
I moved Stockyard BBQ Supply into the West Bottoms in August 2020. The building was constructed by the Parlin and Orendorff Company in 1898to manufacture farming equipment. It was the Central Bag Company until the early 2000s. A lot of the original features are still intact.
There’s even a money vault in the back because people paid in cash then. We just recently got it open. It’d been closed for eight to ten years. About a month or two ago, a guy was playing with the numbers and got it open. But there was nothing in there. What’s cool is the artwork on the vault’s door. It’s original to the building.
There are also some licenses and other documents from the 1920s still on the inside of the door. Somebody who came up here from Memphis said they once saw a safe with the exact same painting. Maybe it’s a trademark of the time.
Since opening the store, I’ve found that hot sauce is really popular in Kansas City, so we’ve got a bunch of it. We’re going to move all the hot sauce into the vault and call it the ‘Devil’s Vault.’ If you’ve seen Hot Ones, I have Da Bomb Beyond Insanity Hot Sauce, but I also have a couple that make that one look mild. I’ve actually been talking to Spicin [Foods] about creating a replica of Hot Ones, where people can come into the store and try the hottest hot sauces.
Right now, with the pandemic keeping people at home, I’m mainly shipping product. Remember the Jones sisters [of Jones Bar-B-Q]? I do all their shipping for them—with their appearance on Queer Eye, sales went through the roof. Last winter, I shipped fifty or sixty of their gift packages to Will Smith. But eventually, I want to turn the store into a museum with a barbecue and hot sauce gift shop. I’ve been talking to people about getting in old equipment and display pieces—somewhere around here I have a chair from the original American Royal from 1912—stuff like that. I think Kansas City needs a barbecue museum.”
— John Kessler, owner of Stockyard BBQ Supply, as told to Mary Henn