Topeka’s Lonnie Q’s BBQ has a bomb-proof business model and killer taters
Lon Weaver has a mantra that’s somewhat unique: If you don’t like it, don’t come back.
“I hope you like it, but if for some reason you don’t, don’t try it again because it’ll be the same,” Weaver says.
Consistency is the hallmark of Lonnie Q’s, a bustling counter-service barbecue spot on the eastern outskirts of Topeka. Lonnie Q has a unique business model, one that’s uniquely well suited to these times, as the fallout of the coronavirus pandemic roils the service industry. Things are basically unchanged at Lonnie Q’s.
Weaver is only open twelve hours a week, and makes every last bite with his own hands, as he has done for a decade. He makes great food—the buttery smoked turkey made with whole breasts and garlicky, crispy cheesy taters are standouts—and the line can sometimes stretch to two hours.
The barbecue spot—which sits on a little lot near an RV park just before the start of the Kansas Turnpike—is only open for two hours at lunch on weekdays, plus two hours for dinner on Friday. Weaver closes the restaurant on Saturday and Sunday, which means he can pick up catering gigs if he wants, or kick back with a cold one if he doesn’t.
“I can still make a good living at it because I have low overhead,” he says. “I don’t have eight or ten cooks. I don’t have twenty waiters and waitresses, you know. I don’t have to stay open all those extra hours just to pay that bill.”
Weaver has only three employees, all of which have been with him for a decade.
“I would rather have three employees that I know that I can trust and depend on,” he says, “versus ten employees that don’t show up on time, are hungover from the party before or steal from me. I’ve got it whittled down—three top-notch employees. I’m the cook and the hand-shaker, but they’re the ones that keep it flowing out there in front.”
Waver makes only seven items: Ribs, brisket, pulled pork, turkey, baked beans, coleslaw and cheesy taters. Nobody knows the recipes but him.
“I kind of got a niche where I don’t have a whole lot of waste,” he says. “A lot of restaurants, they’ve got a hundred items on their menu, you know, and they really only sell ten items all the time.”
We tried everything on the Lonnie Q menu and it’s all good—but the turkey, super-smoky ribs and soul-warming cheesy taters are the things Kansas Citians will be happy to drive out for.
“The cheese potatoes are the star. We’re open for twelve hours a week and we go through five-hundred pounds of potatoes a week,” Weaver says. “I had these taters over at my mother-in-law’s house one time and I really liked them. To make them at the volume I do I had to tweak the recipe. If you find a cheesy potato casserole recipe on the internet—funeral potatoes, some people call them—they call for chopped onion. Well, a lot of my customers don’t like onions. So I devised the spice on my own that kind of replicates the onion and the other spices, which I think kind of gives them a unique flavor.”