Restaurant owner keeps grandfather's legacy alive.
Dan Martin remembers watching his grandfather, George Martin, stand by his homemade limestone smoker, cooking for his family and friends.
Even though George passed away in 1969, when Dan was only 9 years old, the memory of his grandfather is vivid and has shaped his life for years to come.
“I still have these memories of my grandfather chopping hickory to stoke the fire,” he said. “The rubs and barbecue sauces were perfected around the campfire and since that time, I wanted to be just like my grandfather.”
A cowboy at heart
George Martin was more than a barbecue enthusiast. Known as the “Smiling Cowboy Friend,” George got his name Colorado Pete when he began singing on KMBC Radio as part of the “Dinner Bell Roundup,” a job he had for almost 20 years.
Pete started singing around the camp fire when he worked on ranches in Colorado. Born in Ontario, Canada, he left his Independence home at 15 years old, “hopped a train” and went to Kit Carson, Colo.
“He went to Colorado in order to make money for his family. It is there that he started cooking around the campfire,” said Dan Martin. “He cooked the beans and created the sauces around those fires.”
When Pete returned to the Kansas City area in 1937, the legend of Colorado Pete’s barbecue was born. Next to a 10-acre pond on Cogan Lane in northeast Independence, Pete built his limestone smoker. He sold season passes to what he called “The Crawdad Hole,” so people could fish, and he provided the meal.
“It’s where it all started,” Dan Martin said with a smile on his face. “What I have tried to do with my restaurant is the same – a down-home family place where someone could sit for minutes or sit for hours.”
Birth of Colorado Pete’s barbecue
Dan Martin used to work with Heavy Laborer’s Union Local 1290 in construction. But when an injury side-lined him in 2002, he decided to put in motion a dream he had had for years.
“This is a dream I have had my whole life to start a barbecue restaurant, using the recipes of my grandfather,” he said. “I have always been fascinated with cooking. I learned about the barbecue from my grandmother and the sides from my grandmother.”
Susan Martin, Dan’s wife, said he spoke of nothing else since she met him 17 years ago. It is a dream, she said, she has supported from the beginning.
“Of course I have been supportive. He loves to cook and I was excited to help him see this through,” she said. “We want our customers to feel like they are part of our family. We want the atmosphere to feel relaxed, like it would be at home.”
The business started with a simple bakery van that had a smoker attached. A sign that said “hot meat” was attached to the end. Dan and Janice, drove the van to carnivals and fairs. He described the “lines of people” waiting for a barbecue sandwiches and ribs as exhilarating and exciting.
After seven years of running the business out of a van, Colorado Pete’s Barbecue, 794 S.W. U.S. 40, became a reality when Dan opened the Sunday paper one morning.
“Since I became a born-again Christian, I have put all my faith in God, and he led me here to Blue Springs,” he said. “I was looking through the Sunday paper, which I never do, and saw an ad that said ‘Restaurant for Lease.’ I was in the right place at the right time.”
There was never a question on what the barbecue restaurant would be called, and Colorado Pete’s opened Nov. 6, 2008. The restaurant’s menu, which includes pulled pork, brisket, burnt ends and of course, ribs, is all based on of his grandfather’s recipes.
But don’t ask him for the ingredients because Dan won’t tell.
“Colonel Sanders has 11 herbs and spices. Well, we have 12 in our sauce,” he said. “I tell my employees that this is supposed to be fun. I want the first person’s food to be as good as the last person’s food.”
All in the sauce
The smoking of the meat begins early, usually around 7 a.m. Pork butt takes almost 14 hours to smoke whereas the brisket cooks for nine to 12 hours. All of the meat is cooked a day ahead of time, sliced and then refrigerated. Dan said the reason is so the meat is only reheated once.
As with the meat, all of the sides from the baked beans to the cole slaw and potato salad is made fresh daily from his Grandmother Olive’s recipes. His feeling is that people have liked it for this long, so why change the recipe now.
“All of my food is cooked from the heart,” he said. “I cook the same way I would cook for my mom or dad. I want everyone who comes here to have the best of the best.”
Tedi Welsh, Dan and Susan’s daughter, said it is exciting to see the success of the restaurant. She said she believes it is the fun atmosphere and of course the food that brings people back for more.
“I like the ribs the best,” she said. “I can’t explain why. I think it is the seasoning. It is not too dry and perfectly cooked. It falls right off the bone.”
Although Dan had reservations about opening a business in the current economy, he said the business is doing well. So well in fact that they are considering expanding and opening a second location on the Kansas side of the metropolitan area.
In addition, plans are in the works to market and distribute the Colorado Pete’s barbecue sauce. He said he has a verbal agreement from Hy-Vee in Blue Springs to sell the sauce once all the necessary paperwork is completed.
“I think my grandfather would be real happy to know that we are treating people right,” he said. “He had the reputation of the ‘Smiling Cowboy Friend’ for a reason. We want this to feel like a family because that is what he always striven to do. ‘Anything worth doing is worth doing right,’ he would tell me and that is what I plan to do.”