INDEPENDENCE – A week after he had to make the toughest phone call of his life – telling 40 employees that they were being laid off – Plowboys Barbeque owner Todd John received a call he says will be life-changing, for his employees and countless residents in the metro area.


"We couldn’t get all 40 employees together because of the social distancing issue, so I called them on a conference call and had to tell them they weren’t going to be able to work again until all this ended," said John, wiping tears from his eyes as his voice broke with emotion.


"A conference call – telling them they lost their jobs on a conference call. Man, that’s just not right."


That led to sleepless nights for the owner of the popular barbecue joint that has locations in Blue Springs, downtown Kansas City and Overland Park.


But a call he received Thursday helped him see a glimmer of hope.


John had sent a Facebook message about the impact of losing his employees, including two of his three general managers, on his life and their families.


"I get this call from Operation BBQ Relief, this great organization that goes to disaster sites and feed anyone who is hungry – the responders, the people who have been affected by a disaster – it’s just a great organization."


"And they had an idea they wanted to run by me – and it blew my mind!"


The group originated after the 2011 tornado that devastated Joplin. It includes volunteers from Missouri, Kansas, Arkansas and Oklahoma.


The group is offering John a proof-of-concept opportunity in which he and his staff – six of whom he called Friday, asking if they’d like to come back to work – can serve 2,500 free meals to anyone in need in the metro area.


"Now, you have to realize, this all happened less than 24 hours ago, and something like this would usually take weeks and weeks to prepare," said John, who had table after table of supplies to take to his Overland Park location.


That is because the Kansas location was closed. The Blue Springs location is still open for drive-through and curbside service from 4 to 8 p.m. daily.


"Our Overland Park location is 6737 West 75th Street," John said, "and right now, I cannot give you a time we are going to start. But we have an e-mail address that will continue to be updated about what we are going to offer."


The address is feedingkc@plowboysbbq.com.


"This is all new. They have never tried anything like this before, and it could get bigger and bigger because between our Kansas location and here in Blue Springs, I think we could serve 5,000 to 10,000 folks – and they don’t have to pay a thing."


For their contribution, John and his staff will receive $1 per meal, which he said would go toward paying his employees "and keeping the lights on."


As he talks about bringing a small portion of his employees back to work, emotions once again overcome the iconic restaurateur, who has won the American Royal Grand Championship and been featured on a host of national television programs.


"I kept thinking, there has to be some good that comes from all of this," he said. "I called all my employees and told them that if they needed anything – we had food and toilet paper."


"And now, we get to feed 2,500 people in the metro area, and I get to hire back six of my employees. I have no idea what to expect Saturday."


"I’m guessing tonight might be a sleepless night as we plan for all this – but I know we’re doing something good, and you can’t have too many good things happen in times like this.


"Will we need the police to direct traffic? Will (we) be out of food early in the day? Talk to me next week, and I’ll let you know."


John was smiling when he made the comment.