Countless barbeque restaurants dot the neighborhoods in and around Kansas City today, but during the early years of the 20th Century, ‘que was only found in the predominantly Black neighborhoods.
Henry Perry, a Black cook born and raised in Tennessee, is now credited with bringing the Southern tradition of slow-cooked meats slathered with a tangy sauce to Kansas City; his first storefront business was located at 1514 E. 19 St. by 1900.
Perry had expanded to three locations by the time he passed away in 1940. His restaurant at 17th and Brooklyn was purchased by Charlie Bryant, who then sold it to his brother Arthur. Arthur changed the sauce recipe to appeal to a wider customer base, and capitalized on the proximity to Municipal Stadium, just a few blocks south.
Meanwhile, Ol’ Kentuck Barbeque at 19th and Vine offered not only barbeque meats, but also had a liquor license. George W. Gates (1908-1960) was also born and raised in Tennessee, and as the father of three, was looking for a more stable income. He had worked as a railroad waiter and postal worker, but the idea of operating a tavern appealed to him – until his wife, a devout Methodist, argued that his business should focus on food, not whiskey.
Luckily for Gates, a cook named Arthur Pinkard worked at Ol’ Kentuck at the time of purchase in 1946 and had previously worked alongside Henry Perry. Pinkard taught Gates the slow cooking process and Gates created his own sauce recipe.
A fire in 1951 moved the business to several nearby locations until 1957, when Gates’ Ol’ Kentuck opened at 1221 Brooklyn. Gates’ son Ollie learned the business as he grew up, and the restaurant eventually changed its name to Gates & Son. Ollie opened his own place at 31st and Indiana following a dispute with his father, but bought the Brooklyn location from his mother following his father’s death in 1960.
The surrounding Gates Plaza, which added additional businesses to the 12th and Brooklyn hub, was built in 1975 and Gates built five more locations in the greater Kansas City area, as well as bottling the famous sauce for retail sales.
Gates is still owned and operated by the expanding Gates family.