Shaneeda Hawkins rushes through the door of Springfield’s famous Crosstown Barbecue waving her credit card in the air.
“Steve, I forgot to pay!” she yells out to Steven Williams, owner of Crosstown Barbecue. “I was so excited about the barbecue, I forgot what I was doing!”
Williams laughs, along with other customers in the restaurant, and rings her up. Hawkins is a new customer at Crosstown, but you’d think she’d been coming to the joint for years based on the friendly rapport between her and Williams.
Crosstown Barbecue owner Steven Williams (left) and new customer Shaneeda Hawkins (right).
“I just discovered this place yesterday when my husband’s boss told him about it,” she says. “We were driving by and I was like, ‘I smell the barbecue, let’s go there!’”
She says the food was so good, she had to come back for another round just a day later.
“That’s all it takes,” says Williams. “People come in here to taste the food and I've got a new customer!”
Williams’ father, Jess, opened Crosstown Barbecue in February 1970 and would commute back and forth from Kansas City to Springfield to keep the restaurant in operation. Williams took it over in 1984 and has been serving up delicious smoked meats smothered in a secret recipe barbecue sauce ever since.
A picture of Crosstown Barbecue founder Jess Williams hangs on the wall of the restaurant.
“Crosstown is unique to Springfield because it’s really the only Kansas City-style barbecue in town,” he says. “You’re not going to find another restaurant in town that has the flair and the atmosphere that we have here and it’s just the total package as far as customer service and just being friendly and having great food.”
Great food is an understatement. The smoked meats including brisket, ham, turkey, chicken, pork and ribs are all excellent. They’re all prepared in the same smoker that Jess Williams built in 1970 and served with a mild or spicy barbecue sauce.
Just after the lunch rush on this particular day, the drive-through bell rings and a customer places her order. “I’d like three regular beef sandwiches with extra spicy sauce,” she says.
Williams’ eyes light up. “She’s a regular. I know her,” he says with a smile. And he certainly does. He knows just how much extra sauce she wants and relays that to the kitchen.
“You know, it’s all about building relationships and throughout the 46 years, and the 34 that I've been here, I've built some great relationships that continue to go on and that’s what it’s really all about,” he says. “It’s about friendship, love and good food.”
William’s friendly nature, along with the outstanding barbecue, have kept customers coming back for decades. He says he has repeat customers that have been coming to Crosstown from out of town since the beginning.
“We've got some people that come in and they've been coming to our restaurant for like 20 or 30 years and guess what? They've never tried nothing else but what they've ordered every single time and that’s pretty unique.”
At Crosstown, experimenting with the food is also key to keeping it fresh and interesting. Some of the sandwiches are named after customers who were lucky enough to be the first taste testers. There’s the Mike & Ryan that’s constructed with brisket mixed with hot link sausage, cheddar cheese sauce, jalapeños and topped with burnt ends chili. Mike and Ryan, you both should be proud.
Steven Williams talks to customers during lunch at Crosstown Barbecue.
Williams relishes the fact that Crosstown has been built and run by family over the years and that’s evident in the passion he has for what he does.
“Throughout the years, my dad and mom worked here, I have two brothers who have worked here and my daughter and son have worked here,” he says. “We're just keeping the legacy alive with the second generation and who knows—maybe the third. But I’m here for a while and still enjoy what I do after 34 years.”