KC Hopps buys an interest in Stroud’s, will hatch expansion plans

  • Jaimie Warren
  • Don’t worry, the Stroud’s recipes aren’t going to change.

You may have already noticed: The Stroud’s restaurant in Fairway has been closed for several days. It will reopen again Thursday night, but in the meantime, every piece of kitchen equipment has been pulled out and examined…and cleaned, then replaced. The reason for this madness?

The deal between Mike Donegan, the owner of Stroud’s, and local restaurant operators KC Hopps is only 48 hours old, but the idea that the owners of the 75th Street Brewery, Blue Moose Bar & Grill and 810 Zone restaurants will have an equity partnership in the most iconic fried-chicken restaurant in the metro has some people, well, squawking. Will KC Hopps make significant changes to a beloved roadhouse restaurant that has remained, in concept anyway, pretty much intact for eight decades?

KC Hopps president Ed Nelson has one change that he plans to institute right away: “There aren’t enough Stroud’s T-shirts available at the counter,” Nelson says. “And why doesn’t the menu list all the major culinary awards that the restaurant has won over the years? That’s important, especially to out-of-town visitors.”

As far as the fried chicken and the service at the Fairway Stroud’s (Donegan chose not to include the Northland Stroud’s in the deal), Nelson wouldn’t change a thing.

Nelson and his partners do know that the Stroud’s brand is a valuable asset and they have plans to grow the business. “After we learn how Mike Donegan has been doing what he’s doing so well for the last 40 years,” Nelson says.

Donegan and then-partner Jim Hogan purchased Stroud’s from its founder, Helen Stroud, in 1972. Kansas City’s most famous chicken joint actually started life as a beer-and-barbecue shack in 1933 (the year that Prohibition was repealed). The original restaurant was listed as Stroud’s Barbecue in local phonebooks until the 1960s. Stroud’s didn’t establish a reputation for its pan-fried chicken until the meat rationing of World War II made the bird a cheaper culinary choice than beef. Donegan moved the restaurant from the original roadhouse location to the Fairway venue in 2005.

Interestingly, Ed Nelson – who moved with his family to Overland Park when he was in the ninth grade – had never eaten at Stroud’s until, he says, he was 35 years old. (“We didn’t go out to eat that much during my childhood,” Nelson says. “If we wanted fried chicken, my mother made it.”) His favorite thing on the Stroud’s menu?

“The gravy,” he says. “I could eat a gallon of it.”

Nelson thinks Topeka (which already has a successful Blue Moose Bar & Grill) could support a Stroud’s restaurant. Maybe Wichita, too. But I asked Nelson: Does the Kansas City metro really need a third Stroud’s? Wouldn’t having too many operations cheapen the brand?”

“Too many, yes,” Nelson says. “But we’re only thinking one more in the metro. Possibly Lee’s Summit or Blue Springs.”

A more likely scenario, Nelson says, is to open a single Stroud’s restaurant in larger American cities that don’t already have their own iconic chicken joints. St. Louis, perhaps (although one could argue that the Lemp Mansion restaurant has very good pan-fried chicken in addition to all the famous ghosts in the place) or Denver.

The Stroud’s in other cities would have to look like the original restaurant, Nelson says. Worn wooden floors, crooked windows.

“That is, if we can get permits to build them that way,” he says.

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