Plowboys Barbeque will ‘end on our terms’ to pivot to a booming side business

Plowboys nachos/Photo by Zach Bauman

Plowboys Barbeque will close its restaurants in two weeks as co-owners Todd Johns and Audrey Johns will pivot to a booming business in rubs and sauces. Plowboys sauces and rubs are available in thirty countries—their top product, Yardbird Rub, moves a hundred thousand pounds a year.

“We made the decision, the decision wasn’t made for us, and that felt good to us,” Johns says. “We’re finishing in a way that feels good. It feels good to end on our own terms.”

Plowboys opened its first location in Blue Springs in 2013 and followed up with a downtown location in 2015 and a franchise in Nebraska. They also opened and closed a location in Overland Park, which is now Buck Tui. They also operated multiple windows at Arrowhead Stadium—Johns would often walk six-and-a-half miles of steps on a game day. (“It took two days to recover,” Johns says.)

Plowboys was doing record business going into the pandemic, Johns says, with sales at the downtown location up almost thirty percent. Plowboys did “dip a little bit” and “had some ground to recover,” he says, but the plan had been to continue.

Negotiations on renewing their lease for another five years sparked a deeper conversation about the future of the business, fueled in part by Johns’ reading Finish Big.

“We’re all ten years older—that was a big factor,” he says. “I was recommended a book earlier this year called Finish Big—it’s a really good read, and it talks about how we as entrepreneurs put a lot of energy into our concept and our launch and our vision, and then we either hand those things off or we operate them but what we don’t do, is we don’t put the same amount of energy into what does the end look like? I’m an old-school Stephen Covey fan and one of Covey’s pieces of wisdom is ‘start with the end in mind.’ But we don’t typically do that. What is the end goal of this? That’s not typically a thought process.”

For Johns and the rest of the Plowboys team, considering “whether to sign up for another five years of this,” forced them to step back and think about the end. Johns is philosophical about the discussion.

“It just became this gut check,” he says. “Everything has an end—our lives have an end. Nothing is meant to last forever and that’s okay. What most people don’t get to do is make this decision. We made this decision, the decision was not made for us.”

Plowboys told all their employees before releasing the news publicly and will give a last-check bonus.

“We’re finishing in a way that feels good,” he says. “We don’t want it to be the thing where there’s a sign on the door that says ‘we’re closed’ and that’s how you found out. I would say this ending was as curated as it can be.”

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