In restaurant vernacular, “86” means you have run out of something. It is with poetic tragedy that L.C. Richardson, founder and proprietor of LC’s BBQ, passed away at the age of 86.
I worked a few years at one of the newer, fancier BBQ spots in town. The ones with sit-down waiter service, artisanal plating and linen napkins swaddling silverware. Every out of town patron would ask where else they should get barbecue, for me there was only one answer.
I would tell them that if you want real-deal-old-school barbecue, LC’s is as good as it gets.
LC’s is off the beaten path and has bars on it’s windows. A thin film coats the floor. The smell of hickory smoke emanates through the 30-seat dining room. Three stuffed and prized catfish ornament the walls facing an 1970’s era Pepsi-sponsored menu board. Food is served mounted onto styrofoam plates and is generally a hue of reddish brown.
Restaurateurs and consultants would tell you that these choices are bad for business. At LC’s it is their ethos: no frills.
L.C. himself took an early retirement from working as an executive chef at Farmland Industries. He utilized his pension to open LC’s BBQ on 5800 Blue Parkway in 1986. From the start, he decided to forgo a chef’s sensibilities and prepared his ‘que the old way.
He smoked his meats in a steel drum in the beginning before contracting renowned pit master Bill Chaney to build the brick BBQ pit that reveals smoked treasures to patrons today. L.C. developed a distinctive style by charring his meats before switching to the low and slow method.
So much of what has made LC’s BBQ iconic is the man himself. Every time I was there, he was there, visible from his “office” (a table stacked with papers half-a-mile high). From his black cushioned office chair in the corner he could observe every person that entered and every plate that went out.
He’d either be working on his laptop or chatting with his guests. I’ve overheard a number of conversations across the years. I hear his voice saying “I don’t know about this Todd Haley guy,” “I think Andy Reid is gonna do a helluva job,” and of course, “How’s the BBQ treatin’ ya?”
It may strike the ear as small talk, but L.C., his BBQ, his place and his presence were a quintessential part of my Kansas City experience. I never had a particularly deep conversation with L.C. I regret that, but he was always there.
L.C. was a lot of things to a lot of people. For me, he came to embody Kansas City and the culture surrounding it.
I grew up in a rural suburb east of KC. The first time I saw the skyline as a child, I asked my parents if it was Gotham City. I was introduced to Kansas City-proper through the Royals, the Chiefs and LC’s.
My dad, who dabbled in BBQ competitions himself, initiated me. He discovered the place when he was working at a nearby construction site. Each day another laborer opened up a styrofoam box, the contents filling the air with a distinct hickory smell.
Dad looked at his ordinary bologna sandwich with disappointed jealousy day after day until he finally asked, “Where are you guys getting these ribs?”
Word of good food always travels. My father introduced LC’s to my family. As an adult, it became part of my ritual when attending Royals games and Chiefs tailgates. I told friends and relative strangers alike about the smoked meats and beans made with drippings.
Much of why something tastes good to a person is psychological. Studies have shown that music, atmosphere, color and mood are all contributing factors. Much to the chagrin of chefs, it’s not all about texture, salt, acid and fat. Part of the reason I enjoy LC’s so much has to do with the memories at Truman Sports Complex, and meals shared with my father and friends.
LC’s will always occupy a sacred place for me. It has grown into a family business and one of its strengths is their consistency of flavor. After the news of L.C.’s passing, I stopped by for some smoked chicken wings. The place was the same as it ever was, and my wings were spicy, sticky, savory and smokey.
As I ate my wings I noticed his empty office chair with a commemorative plaque on what was always his table. As I read the words “L.C. Richardson Office, We Love You,” I felt a new flavor emerge. It was bittersweet.
Rest in peace L.C. The cookouts in the afterlife will surely have to step up their game with you there now.