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Original Smokestack Restaurant Closes Doors

February 17, 2006

By Joyce Smith, The Kansas City Star, Mo.

Feb. 17–”My children were little babies when we moved there. But my husband had this dream of having a barbecue and we all worked together and we were all together. It was a success and generated all the rest of them.”

Flora Fiorella

The original Smokestack Barbeque at 8129 South U.S. 71 has closed after nearly 50 years in business.

Flora Fiorella, matriarch of the barbecue clan linked to five other area restaurants, blamed a changing market area, construction on U.S. 71 and growing barbecue competition for the restaurant’s demise.

“It’s very hard for me,” she said. “My children were little babies when we moved there. But my husband had this dream of having a barbecue and we all worked together and we were all together. It was a success and generated all the rest of them.”

Fiorella said her in-laws were Independence farmers who shifted to the grocery business when farming profits started falling. Her husband, Russell Fiorella, a butcher in the store, also changed careers when new supermarkets entered in the late 1950s and made it hard for “mom and pop” grocers to compete.

In 1957, Russell and Flora Fiorella opened the first Smokestack Barbeque. The family of eight — including a newborn — moved from a 23-room Brookside house into a six-room apartment above the restaurant. Customers would bang on their apartment door after-hours demanding barbecue, she said, but the Fiorellas didn’t mind.

In late 1974, their son Jack Fiorella opened a Smokestack location in Martin City, and later added locations in Overland Park and in the Crossroads Arts District. The three restaurants now operate under the Fiorella’s Jack Stack Barbecue name.

“I spent 15 years of my life there; it was my introduction to the food business when I was 14,” said Jack Fiorella of the original location. “My mother was the waitress and we came in to work after school. It didn’t even have a liquor license but it was extremely popular from the mid-1960s to mid-1980s. People lined up to get in.”

Two of Russell and Flora’s daughters, Carol Fiorella and Diane Fiorella Marak, later took over the original location “temporarily” after their father had a stroke. When he died they operated the restaurant for their mother for more than 20 years.

Another sister, the late Mary Fiorella McPheron, opened a Smokestack at 8921 Wornall Road, which is now owned and operated by her children, Sarah, David and Ben Eisman. Another son, Russell Fiorella, owns and operates a location at 8250 N. Church Road in Kansas City, North.

In 1997, more than 60 persons who ate baked beans catered from the original location became ill with salmonella, one of the largest food-borne disease outbreaks in recent years in the Kansas City area, but Flora Fiorella said it didn’t affect sales.

A health inspection from May 2005 showed three critical violations — for black buildup on a coffeepot, lack of knowledge by kitchen staff on cooking temperatures, and shelves in a walk-in cooler with rust buildup.

Jack Fiorella, who has not been involved with the operation of the original restaurant for many years, said succession plans are important in a family-owned business. Managers also need to benefit financially from the business, he said, because then if the owners are not in the building or the next generation is not as talented, someone has an incentive to keep up high quality and service.

“When I first had a restaurant and would leave to take a break with my family, the next day customers would call saying it wasn’t as good because I wasn’t there,” he said. “So I worked hard to make sure it would be.”

As the south Kansas City market changed, he said, his family needed to change how they marketed the original location, much like his father did when he offered full-service barbecue when most barbecue restaurants were cafeteria-style.

“My dad was a very innovative person, quite the marketer and merchandiser,” he said. “Places don’t have the greatest locations but people flock to them. The (original location) should have shifted; it should have been a more roadside barbecue; a great carryout place.”

To reach Joyce Smith, call (816) 234-4692 or send e-mail to jsmith@kcstar.com .

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Copyright (c) 2006, The Kansas City Star, Mo.

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