Winslow’s BBQ, a City Market institution that traces its roots to the “roaring” River Quay days in 1971, is going out of business next month.
The barbecue joint and its 300-seat outdoor patio overlooking the City Market vendors has been a familiar fixture for generations, but that will all end Oct. 15, according to Deb Churchill, vice president and property manager for KC Commercial Realty Group which manages the market for the city.
“Their lease is not being renewed,” she said. “The owner and the City Market are on the same page. He’s moving on to other opportunities.”
Attempts to reach owner Gerry Heldrich, who bought the business from the Winslow family in 2009, were unsuccessful. An employee answering the phone at Winslow’s declined to comment.
Dave Winslow, who bought the business after his brother Don Winslow Jr. died in 1994, said the closing is the end of an era. The restaurant dates its history back to the previous reincarnation of the historic district when it was known as the River Quay.
Winslow said the place was opened by John Mulvihill and was then called the City Market Barbecue.
“Through the roaring times of the River Quay, I remember going down certain nights with as many as 10,000 people,” Winslow recalled. “As all that devolved in the late 70s, so did the business.”
In about 1981, Don Winslow with the support of his parents bought the restaurant and it became Winslow’s. Dave was living in Dallas and returned to take over the place after his brother died suddenly.
He made his mark not only running the restaurant, but becoming deeply engaged in the revitalization of the River Market area, serving as president of the merchant’s association twice and helping create a tax-increment financing district that further improved the neighborhood while serving on the TIF Commission.
“I believe Winslow’s BBQ through all those activities has been a stabilizing force and positive force for change,” Winslow said. “We worked hard to push for accountability there for development activity.”
After selling the restaurant to Heldrich, Winslow said the quality declined.
“Its closing is sad certainly for us and loss for the city, but it’s never been the same since I sold it,” he said. “It didn’t have the consistency as it did when the family owned it.”
Churchill said several interested prospective tenants have been in discussions with her firm for the 2,300 square-foot space and referred inquiries to Justin Cottrell of KC Commercial Realty.
“At this point, we have no announcements to make,” Cottrell said.
The announcement comes shortly after Cafe al Dente announced its lease was not being renewed after 17 years at 412 Delaware St.
Cafe al Dente’s has a different landlord than Winslow’s.
“Everything is changing down here,” Churchill said. “We have to keep moving.”
Dana Gibson, a member of the City Market Oversight Committee, a city-appointed board, said Winslow’s had been an important part of the resurgence of the City Market.
“Don Winslow was a wonderful guy and I’m sad to see an era end,” he said. “Don was an early entrepreneur down here and created a great business when there wasn’t much going on here.
“The business has had a great run, this is just part of the changing of the guard here.”
Gibson did say the City Market as a whole has had a great year, thanks in part to the new streetcar. Sales increased 21 percent on average from June 2016 to last June.
“The restaurants are staying open until 8 p.m., they’re growing into the new market place the way they need to be.
“People are hopping off the streetcar looking for places to eat and drink and spend their money.”
Kevin Collison, a freelance contributor to KCUR 89.3, writes about downtown Kansas City for his website CityScene KC.