By Wally Kennedy
JOPLIN, Mo. —
A new restaurant is coming to Joplin that will offer a welcome addition to the downtown menu.
Sawmill BBQ is under construction in the former Connor House Gallery storefront at 612 S. Main St. Work to convert the antique shop into a restaurant is in full swing and should not be too difficult to do since the building was the Connor House fine-dining restaurant before it became an antique shop.
The owners, Natasha and Bryan Higdon, hope to have their opening in about three weeks or so.
The story I was told is that the Higdons have been competing in barbecue cooking contests in Missouri for about five years. When they started, they would finish in the middle of the pack in competition. Then they started winning. Their goal is to offer competition-quality barbecue that complies with the standards of the Kansas City Barbeque Society.
The restaurant will feature Bryan’s recipes for brisket, ribs, pulled pork and chicken. A full line of sides will be offered. Fourteen craft beers, most of them locally produced, also will be offered.
“We were looking for a place downtown because we were born and raised here. This building has a great personality. We knew this is where we wanted to be,’’ Natasha Higdon said. “It will be all about local flavors. Everything is from scratch.’’
The Higdons hope to feature some live music in their restaurant from time to time.
The restaurant will open at 10:30 a.m. and close about 10 p.m. most days. The restaurant will close later on weekends. The restaurant has a big plus going for it with regard to parking. The rear entrance to the building can be accessed from a municipal parking lot.
The Sawmill name reflects the Higdons’ other business, which is home construction.
“We build houses from the ground up. We’re now building a business from the ground up,’’ Natasha said.
The addition of Sawmill BBQ to the downtown mix of restaurants is important because it plans to be open late. Across the street, Club 609, always a favorite in my book, stays open late. A little to the north, Hackett Hot Wings stays open until 8:30 p.m. or so. Instant Karma Gourmet Hot Dogs is now offering a dinner menu.
Having businesses, especially restaurants, open at night generates downtown foot traffic. More of that is exactly what is needed downtown.
Ocean Buffet, 3434 S. Range Line Road, has closed. The restaurant opened in 2010 in the former Fender’s Roadhouse. Fender’s used to be Whiskey Creek and before that it was a Country Kitchen. If my memory serves me, it might have been a Howard Johnson’s at one time.
When the restaurant arrived two years ago, I said it could be a while before there’s another name change at 3434 S. Range Line. Missed the boat on that one. Oriental buffets do well in Joplin, and Ocean Buffet offered a broad selection of foods in a spot where it could capitalize on its connection to Interstate 44 travelers and guests in Joplin’s hotel district.
So, what went wrong? That’s a hard question to answer. There is more competition in the oriental buffet market. Far East in the City Pointe shopping center in Webb City is new. Pacific Rim at 29th Street and Range Line is now offering a buffet. And, there are the local favorites — Golden Dragon, Hunan Garden, King Palace and Lotus Garden, which all have their followings. But a big competitor in that market, The Great Wall Chinese, 2705 S. Range Line, folded after the tornado.
What is kind of surprising is Cabo del Sol, now Jim Bob’s, opened about the same time as Ocean Buffet and it did not last nearly as long as Ocean Buffet. I think it once again shows that competition in Joplin’s restaurant market can be fierce, and that you have to be at the top of your game with each and every customer.
The partial demolition of the Interstate 44 bridges over Range Line Road will begin this week. This will cause short-term traffic stops and lane closings at night as work progresses.
If you have news about something happening on Range Line Road or Main Street, phone 417-623-3480, ext. 7250; or send an email to firstname.lastname@example.org; or send a fax to Wally Kennedy at 417-623-8598.