BY CORIE LYNN
The former Soda Shoppe Cafe in downtown Hays has experienced changes this fall.
The first change was the addition of a front door, installed so that patrons would not need to walk through Northwestern Office Suppliers and what had been Em ‘n Me Antiques to get to their tables.
The second change was that the building space is now home Blue Smoke BBQ.
“I mean, I love restaurants, I love food and I really enjoy downtown Hays, and this was a great opportunity for me to showcase a different style of food, really,” said Chef Phil Kuhn, owner of The Press restaurant and co-owner of Blue Smoke.
Kuhn is opening the restaurant in partnership with his close friend and Hays local Logan Staab.
“He invested into the restaurant because he probably has more passion about barbeque,” Kuhn said. “I bring a culinary aspect. He brings a huge passion for barbeque.”
Blue Smoke opened Nov. 30, but it will not be the only BBQ restaurant calling downtown Hays home. Bricks Rockin’ BBQ will open up the block, bringing its own take on the all-American food.
As each restaurant has its own strengths, Kuhn explains that, besides providing quality service and job opportunities in Hays, Blue Smoke brings unique flavors to its from-scratch food.
“We don’t order in the pre-made food from places,” he said. “Everything’s from scratch. Everything we do in-house.”
Guests to the restaurant will find classic dishes such as pulled pork sandwiches, coleslaw and baked beans on the menu but also dishes unique to the restaurant and its chef.
This is, in part, because the dishes aren’t purely Kansas City-, Texas- or Carolina-styles. Kuhn instead draws on the variety of flavors each barbeque style provides.
Kuhn’s unique dishes also draw from his personal creations, such as the smoked jambalaya, a variation on a jambalaya he has been making for more than a decade.
“[T]his one has a new twist to it because usually we have the chicken, the shrimp, the sausage and all of that, and I go a little bit more cajun, but this time I went with our smoked sausages and our smoked chicken,” he said.
And, knowing that his mac and cheese is a favorite among family, especially his nieces and nephews, Kuhn added burnt end mac and cheese to the menu, too.
Guests to Blue Smoke will notice that, alongside this BBQ menu, the restaurant kept that soda fountain that has served up sundaes and milkshakes for decades. Now, they can sip a Shirley Temple between bites of ribs.
Kuhn, however, has plans to expand Blue Smoke to include a BBQ-inspired breakfast menu, which will include skillets and his “briskets and gravy.”
He also has plans to open a market run by his father in the Em ‘n Me Antique space. His hope is to provide a convenient shop for downtown Hays residents. This market will also sell greens grown in-house.
“[Tom Murphy of Gorham, Kan. is] actually going to put a hydroponic system in the basement of this place, and we’re going to grow all of our own herbs and lettuces, and we’re going to sell it out of the market,” Kuhn said.
While locals may be excited for the new restaurant and market, most people are thrilled with his choice to incorporate the soda fountain into Blue Smoke.
Kuhn explains that this choice was deliberate as the restaurant will smoke its meat once a day then sell until they run out. However, guests can visit the soda fountain anytime.
It also brings a family atmosphere and a certain amount of nostalgia to the restaurant.
“I want people to be excited to come in here on a summer day or, if they so choose, a winter day and grab ice cream or a banana split or whatever you have,” Kuhn said.
Regardless of whether guests want ice cream or brisket, Blue Smoke is ready, bringing its own twists to classic cuisine.