Top city chef opens restaurant in Burns
That's the route Duane Dees has taken as owner of Flint Hills BBQ, Burns' newest restaurant.
"I've been doing this all of my life," Dees said.
For the past 30 years, the 40-something chef has owned and operated restaurants and catering businesses.
Dees isn't a short-order fry cook. This man is an accomplished chef who has specialized in providing food service to the wealthy, working class, and families.
So, how did he end up in Burns, Kansas?
Well, the story goes something like this. In a round-and-about way, Dees met Marion County Economic Development Director Teresa Huffman last summer. Dees was considering other job options but Huffman knew Dees' background was in food service.
Huffman told Dees, who lived in Kansas City at the time, about the vacant restaurant in Burns.
"I came down and took a look at the place. I wasn't expecting much but was surprised at the condition of the building," Dees said.
The monthly lease was affordable and the business opened in late April.
It has been an adjustment for the city-dweller but a choice he was willing to make. When he owned and operated a restaurant in Maui, the monthly overhead was four times what it is in Burns.
"Now, I brought in more money," Dees said, "but it's a trade-off."
With lower overhead and lower gross revenue, Dees knows the bottom line is going to look differently in the town of 250 people vs. an island town or large city.
"I visited around town before I committed to doing this and people encouraged me to do this," Dees said.
With that in mind, Dees has set his restaurant hours accordingly. He's open for breakfast and lunch five days a week because that's what people want. Meals also are offered three evenings per week. Sunday was going to be his day of rest but the locals encouraged him to be open for lunch, so he is. The restaurant is closed on Mondays.
So far, business has been sporadic — some evenings and Sundays have been extremely busy, others are not.
He knows that past owners have sold alcohol with the food but Dees isn't interested in doing that.
"Anyone can sell drinks and be successful. I want to be successful because of my food," Dees said, matter-of-factly.
Even though barbecue-style cooking isn't something he's done a lot, albeit smoked salmon in Alaska, for Dees it's another way to express his culinary talents.
"I wanted to get in the zone of what has been done the best in town," he said. Staying away from the "café" atmosphere, Dees wanted to maintain the restaurant service and clientele who had frequented the past businesses.
The interior and exterior of the building indicated to Dees that his business needed to be a barbecue or steak house and decided to offer both.
"Everybody can find something on the menu," Dees said, which includes hamburgers, fried or barbecued chicken, fried or blackened fish, steak, and of course, traditional barbecue meats such as pork spare ribs, beef brisket, and burnt ends.
Not wanting anyone to go away hungry, dinners include several side dishes and bread.
Dees now lives in Burns. His wife lives in Kansas City where she maintains her career but does make it back to the small, central Kansas town every few weekends.
The next aspect of his business that Dees is going to consider is a catering business in which he has been successful in the past.
For now, orders can be taken for items on the menu and he does accommodate after-hour events at the restaurant.
At some point, the catering business could include delivering meals in and around the Marion County area for corporate or family functions.