5 years in: Konrad’s among the downtown landmarks
It probably took a few days. Or months, honestly, before people stopped referring to Konrad’s Kitchen & Tap House as “where the old Jerry’s used to be.”
Such is life when you become a landmark in downtown Lee’s Summit.
No more the new guy on the block, Joe and Julie’s brainchild is a staple — a place built on scratch food, late-night tunes, Bones and, if you’re in the mood, a shot owners Joe and Julie Kemna lovingly and simply, call “Apple Pie.”
“It’s a running joke with everyone that works here,” Julie said. “For the first two years, everyone was coming in, saying, ‘This is the old Jerry’s Bait Shop.’ We’ve finally crossed that threshold now, people aren’t bringing up the previous tenant any longer.”
As Julie talks, the picture comes clearly into focus with Joe nearby and their daughter on the front steps with her aunt.
Certainly, Joe and Julie have carved out a unique food and drink niche in a downtown that has grown from less than a dozen places to get lunch and beer to now nearly 20. When the couple “forced” themselves to move to Lee’s Summit many years ago, they started considering a restaurant concept in late 2012.
“We had a baseline business plan,” Joe recalls. “We wanted to go after craft beer and have a scratch menu.”
It was a dream on a napkin. Really.
“We had a quarter-life crisis,” Julie jokes. “So we started forming menus. Whenever we had a down day, we did something for our imaginary business that didn’t yet exist. In hindsight, I am kind of glad it happened that way.
The duo had been in the restaurant business for 15 years at the Lake of the Ozarks — everything from fast food to fine dining. They met when both were earning paychecks at Shady Gators.
“When I was her boss,” Joe says.
“He was not my boss,” Julie retorts. “We were authoritatively equal.”
Either way, Julie cold called the empty building at 302 SW Main Street after looking at other spots in downtown Lee’s Summit.
“I got a tip that maybe they would sell to us, so I cold called it,” she said. “We knew we wanted to be in Lee’s Summit. We looked at the (former) Maxwell’s and built our business plan from there. Once we saw what downtown Lee’s Summit had to offer, we knew that is where we had to open. We focused on downtown because we could see immediately that there was a strong sense of community. Every job we had in this industry has been reminiscent of that so we felt at home.”
Peeling that onion, so to speak, can be difficult when a new restaurant or pub is distinguishing itself — not only from the rest of the district but from the former tenant.
But they had a plan. And it’s working wonders.
“We wanted to be known for food,” Joe said. “Scratch kitchen, every recipe, making all dressings in-house, make our own dough, figuring out what everyone wanted, that was the challenge.”
But what is Konrad’s? Not just the place a train whistles by dozens of times a day, right?
“People wanted to put a tag on us,” Joe said. “What are you guys? So here it is: We want this to be live music, but it’s not necessarily a music venue; we’re not a sports bar, but you can see all the games here; we even take reservations to eat.”
As they toiled 24/7 in the building to open five years ago, Joe and Julie put their friends to work, counting on those bonds to help see vision of what Konrad’s would be. But even the name was vexing — ultimately coming from Joe’s grandpa, Konrad.
“We had a hard time thinking of the name,” Julie said. “But when we found this building, we felt like it just named itself.”
If Konrad’s feels like family when you’re inside having a craft beer flight, homemade pizza or the famous Bones (keeping them on the menu kind of came with the deal) — that’s by design. Julie’s sisters, Hannah and Mary, are both familiar faces at the joint. As are Keenan and Adam, both of whom worked with the couple at the lake.
“They’re really the reason we are here. They make this place their own just as much as we do,” Julie said.
And, as of July of 2016, Quinn Marie joined the crew. On this day, she’s getting in some time with her aunt. Most days, the couple is juggling an 80-hour-a-week restaurant and raising a 2-year-old.
Even in recovery, though, Julie couldn’t stop thinking about the place.
“I had a near-ruptured liver, I was out on pain killers, I looked up and said something about payroll,” Julie laughs. “We talked for months about it. If I go into labor on a Sunday of payroll week, what will happen?”
With family, friends and a downtown community of support, they’ve made that payroll every single week now for over five years.
As the trains whiz by (more than 40 a day, they’ve counted) and they comically remember the time Julie had to work in the kitchen, surely there will be five, 10 or 25 more for this place they call Konrad’s.
Editor's Note: John Beaudoin is a Lee's Summit resident and award winning writer and former newspaper publisher in the Lee's Summit community. Views and opinions expressed in his columns do not necessarily reflect those of Link 2 Lee's Summit, it's employees or any other guest contributors.