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Crosstown Barbecue celebrates 50 years of serving barbecue in Springfield

By: Jamie Thomas, Excerpts reprinted from 417 Magazine

Saturday, February 22, Crosstown Barbecue celebrated its 50th anniversary. The restaurant has been serving Kansas City-style barbecue in Springfield, MO for an incredible five decades. For 39 of those 50 years, Steve Williams has been running the restaurant and is celebrating the milestone with live music and, more importantly, stories about his father Jess Williams, who founded the business back in 1970.

For the first 17 years that Crosstown Barbecue was open, Williams senior would commute from Kansas City to Springfield, sleeping in a small back room of the venue that still stands today.

Do you have any regulars who have been coming for most of this time?

Oh yeah, I’ve got people that have been coming here since 1970. They still tell me stories about my dad. I’ve had people come in to this day, and they say “man, your dad was an awesome guy.” I hear that all the time with people that are older, people that have grown up in the neighborhood. Our family has always been about giving back and just trying to make our community a little better.

How has the menu changed in all that time? Has it changed at all?

Oh, it’s changed. In 2002, I changed it up a little bit. It’s constantly changing because I create different barbecue sandwiches now. Customers come in, say “I want this on this and put that on top,” and I’ll say, “Wow, okay.” And
I’ll try it. After that, I say, okay, well, I’m going to put it on the menu. And it’s funny because I name them after people

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. We’re also getting ready to start having soul food Saturdays from 3 p.m. to closing. We have a different menu along with the regular one, with different sides and different entrees.

How much has Springfield changed in the years Crosstown Barbecue has been open?

So much around me has changed. A lot of the industry’s kind of left this area. A lot of the people that said that they would be regular customers here were taken out of the area because of their jobs. Right now, everybody’s about convenience. For lunch, people don’t have a lot of time. But it’s funny, our lunches used to be made fast, but now our lunches seem to last forever.

What do you think has kept Crosstown Barbecue going for this long?

Well for one, business-wise, we’re trying to keep the costs down. And then two, it’s about relationships. My father always told me that people like to do business with people they like. As much as they love the food, people would just come in for conversation, just so they can talk to my dad or talk to me. I think people like that right now, in the hustle and bustle of everything, you know? We appreciate the business and people want to be appreciated, we let them know that we do appreciate it.

You also coach basketball and run a youth ministry while you’re running Crosstown Barbecue?

Yeah. Running a business, coaching. And then in 2005, I started preaching. I accepted my call to the ministry and I’ve been ordained since 2009, I believe. I’m assisting ministers at the church at Turning Point Church. In 2009, I started an inner-city youth ministry called Crossway Ministry. It targets kids from 12 to 18 years of age.

What advice would you give to a business owner hoping to make it this long?

Well, for one, I understand—I’ve learned—that nothing’s possible without God. I’m a man of faith and I realized that it was only God’s grace that’s allowed this business to continue and go through all the ups and downs. Some years I thought “man, I can’t make it.” But I hung in there and I worked hard.

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