Kansas City Barbecue King Ollie Gates demonstrates a legacy of giving

KANSAS CITY, Missouri - Ollie Gates, 78, is a man on the move with a past that inspires him to be a success.


"I was born in Kansas City at 1823 Belleview in a house, in a dishpan I called it," said Gates.

His Father, George Gates started Gates and Son's Barbecue in the early 1950s.

"It was a family affair, my dad, my mother and my sisters and myself and of course everybody's gone except one sister and so I'm still here and still working," Gates explained.


There are six Gates Bar-B-Q locations in Kansas and Missouri, employing 1,500 people.

Almost every day, Ollie Gates can be seen in the restaurant near 47th and Troost.

"Oh, I look around and make sure everybody is doing what we want them to do correct and on time. I still crack the whip; you know my dad said that young men are for war, old men are for counsel so I'm the counselor," Gates smiled.

The success of Gates Bar-B-Q is known worldwide. Famous politicians like Bill Clinton and star athletes like Magic Johnson have dined at Gates.

They've all heard the signature phrase shouted by the server the minute customers walk through the door, "Hi, may I help you."

"Well, in the first place, we want to recognize you when you come through the door. You gotta be recognized," Gates explained.

"So, if you say ‘hi' to them that's kind of standard for saying hello, so hi, that's real short and sweet and then ‘may I help you,' I'm ready to help you when you come through the door. If you're not ready that's fine, take your time; but by the same token, we're ready," Gates explained.

Gates Bar-B-Q has been in business for 65 years. Gates remembers that the road has not been smooth.

"You got to realize I was born during the depression and segregated times and there was certain areas in the city that we were sanctified to that we had to participate in and so those times we had one little place and we couldn't go any further," Gates remembered.

"But Kansas City allowed us to grow by opening up the areas for us to participate in," Gates said. "My store at 103rd and State Line in Kansas was in a restricted area if you wanna know; but in time Kansas City has allowed and accepted us and we've been very happy and proud of the fact that we were able to do so."


In his success, Gates is reaching out to make a difference in Kansas City.

As chairman of the Enshriners organization, Gates has raised money to retire the debt on the Bruce R. Watkins Cultural Heritage Center; he built the Spirit of Freedom Fountain; renovated the historic Satchel Paige Memorial Baseball Stadium; and built the memorial to African American veterans of WWI and WWII.

Thanks to Gates' generosity there is a playground for handicapped children at 27th and Gillham.

As commissioner on the Kansas City, Missouri, Parks and Recreation Board, Gates also added park benches and helped beautify several parks.

Gates is also determined to finish renovating the historic YMCA near 18th and Vine Jazz District into the Buck O'Neil Education and Research Center.

"That's what I like us to see us do; do some things here that we can enjoy here and we don't have to run someplace else to enjoy ourselves," Gates explained.

"I graduated from Building Trades and so I'm a frustrated contractor; I enjoy seeing things being re-created to be more beautiful than it was initially, I really do," he added.

"Everybody has their own way of giving-back and I'm a builder; I like to build," Gates continued.

Right now, Gates is building a new shopping center next to his restaurant at 47th near Troost. The building should be completed by the end of this year or early 2012.

"All of the businesses that were on Troost that you could feed off of, they're gone; and so we have to replace those businesses back with something to give us some businesses back on the east side of Troost," Gates added.

He also owns the building at the south east corner of 47th and Troost where a series of shops are housed. Gates plans to tear-down the building, move the businesses into his new space and build another new building for shops and offices.

"That's our full intention is to shine things up; make things where you're comfortable," Gates said.

Gates says once his full vision is realized people will not notice a difference when they drive on 47th Street and pass Troost.


There is one vision that Gates cannot build alone. It's the hope of future security in every neighborhood in Kansas City.

Right now, I would like to see Kansas City be the safest city in America," Gates added.

"Then once people embrace the fact that it is safe they will come back to enjoy it," Gates said.

At 78 years old, Gates has no plans of slowing down.

"People say life's a struggle; but I don't look at my life as a struggle," Gates explained.

"I just look at it as an opportunity and I'm getting a kick out of it to be honest with you to be able to do it," he added.

"Every day I'm going to continue to work and make each day count. I told the kids I'm going to die with my boots on so, I'll be here," Gates concluded.

To watch the video on the history of Gates Bar-B-Q click here for Gates Bar-B-Q on Facebook.

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