Like Rome, Kansas City’s barbeque empire wasn’t built in a day. However, a failed barbeque business can be sold away in hours.
And cost taxpayer dollars.
It took Ron Williams 38 years to get Wyandot Barbeque where it is today.
“There was a few of those real sleepless nights where I’d wake up sweating saying, man. Can I make the payroll tomorrow?” said Wyandot Barbeque owner Ron Williams.
Williams opened his pride and joy off State Street in 1977. Back then there weren’t government handouts enticing small businesses to open with tax breaks. All Williams had was his bare hands and a burning desire to succeed.
“First two years I was open I worked 15 hours a day 7 days a week without a day off,” said Williams. “Sometimes four weeks at a time I didn’t take a paycheck out of here so I could pay my taxes and that’s just the way you have to do it. Everything comes first you don’t.”
He still works hard but he just pays more in taxes to the Wyandotte County Unified Government.
“I said, 'You’re running me out of business because I’m not a big chain,'" said Williams.
One restaurant, Backfire Barbeque, got tax breaks to open in the shopping mecca at the Legends. The Wyandotte Unified Government bankrolled the motorcycle-themed restaurant with STAR bonds. The government's investment in the restaurant when it opened in 2009 was $3 million.
And Backfire's owners spared no expense.
The tax dollars were used to buy custom motorcycles and classic cars. A Synergy custom motorcycle was bought for $285,000, a 1927 Chevy truck was bought for $125,00 and a rare 1935 Harley with a side car was bought for $106,000.
Altogether, the purchases included $171,225 in jukeboxes, $779,830 for motorcycles and accessories, $689,000 in cars and trucks, various artwork costing $93,496, $90,000 in NASCAR memorabilia and general restaurant necessities like kitchen equipment for $1,007,449.
“What’s a motorcycle going to do for you? Bring the people in? Well the people aren’t going to stay if the food is not good,” said Williams.
Backfires ownership partner, Schuessler Creative, closed the restaurant in 2013. The exact reasons haven't been detailed.
The failure of the business meant all those motorcycles, memorabilia and equipment became government property.
County Administrator Doug Bach was tasked with recouping what money he could. Documents uncovered by KCTV5 revealed Bach hired Florida-based Higgenbotham Auctioneers to put the items up for bid on June 19.
“We did find that, that would be the best process to move forward with that," Bach said.
County commissioners were given little to no notice about the auction.
Some county commissioners like Mike Kane found out after it was done.
“He (Doug Bach) said I’ll let you know. Couple days after the auction was done I was told there was an auction,” Kane said.
He said some constituents were upset that they didn't have advance notice.
KCTV5 kept digging into public records and discovered how much money the government recouped from its investment and subsequent auction.
The $125,000 1927 Chevy truck sold for $8,500.
How about the 1935 Harley with the side car? It sold for $10,000.
Here’s a few others:
1 Blue Whizzer (motorcycle) purchased for $6,500 sold for $800.
1 AMI Jukebox purchased for $35,000 sold for $800.
1 WWII German military motorcycle purchased for $18,155 sold for $3,500.
After the auction, Higgenbotham Auctioneer wrote the WYCO Unified Government a $135,669 check for the sold property.
“I probably look at it and think I’d like to have had it maximize at a higher level than what we received in dollars,” said Bach.
The net loss of $2.8 million isn't upsetting to some because the Legends is a cash cow and a strong tourist attraction. The shopping area generates $17 million a year in tax revenue. With or without Backfire Barbeque, the shopping mecca is ahead of schedule paying back the county for its STAR bonds.
Mayor Mark Holland, who was a commissioner when Backfire Barbeque was approved, says the city has nothing to hide about the UG’s investment into Backfire BBQ that well, backfired.
“If anyone said in a business that you’re going to maybe lose one percent and gain 99 percent who wouldn’t take that deal?” said Holland. So, naturally not every restaurant is going to make it but we, I, don’t have any regrets about all about the Backfire Barbeque.”
Small business like Wyandot Barbeque can’t get STAR bonds like Backfire BBQ because they aren’t considered ‘tourist attractions’ but Williams says investing that money in successful small businesses should be an option.
“If I had three million dollars in the bank I wouldn’t even worry about it. I wouldn’t have no stress,” said Williams. "Maybe the government would give me three million so I don’t stress out all the time.”
The $135,669 generated from the auction was put into the Unified Government’s general funding. Government officials say pretty much all of the furnishings were sold except for some kitchen equipment and some miscellaneous items.
The current Legends manager is moving a Coach leather good stores into the old Backfire location.
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