TARPON SPRINGS – If you’ve ever traveled to or from Tarpon Springs on East Tarpon Avenue, there’s a good chance you noticed KCQue BBQ. Located in a huge pink 1905 Victorian home with a wraparound porch and a fake pig out front, the Kansas City-style barbecue restaurant is definitely hard to miss.
Prior to Mike Kaiser and his wife, Nancy, opening the restaurant in May 2017, the historic home served as a cafe owned by onetime Tarpon Springs resident Melanie Safka. The New York-born folk singer was best known for her appearance at the Woodstock festival in 1969 and her 1971 No. 1 hit, “Brand New Key,” as well as an Italian restaurant.
In 2016, the Kaisers were looking to relocate from a small space on U.S. 19 that primarily served as a headquarters for their catering service. After a yearlong renovation that included rebuilding the iconic porch and replacing the pizza with a smokehouse, the couple have settled into their new business-home.
“We had a feeling from being there for three and a half years we needed to expand and grow,” Mike Kaiser, a Kansas City native who speaks with a drawl that mimics his preferred method of cooking – low and slow – said. “We thought this would be good for what we wanted to do.”
“We love it here,” added Nancy Kaiser, a 40-year Tarpon resident who once served as president of the local merchants’ association. “We live upstairs, so all we have to do to get to work is walk up and down the stairs.”
“It’s a short commute,” Mike joked.
Despite the highly visible location, the Kaisers said they’ve experienced issues that affect many businesses, including parking, as well as some challenges that are unique to them, including schooling the masses in the fine culinary art of barbecue.
“We need to educate people about the proteins in the food and the time it takes to cook. We’re not fast food,” Nancy said. “People aren’t used to brisket like this around here. It’s not processed. There’s no sauce needed. So, they’re being educated because they don’t know what barbecuing is. It’s not grilling.”
Mike Kaiser, a longtime appliance service technician who entered numerous barbecue contests in his native Missouri, taking home the First in Pork trophy at the prestigious American Royal competition in 1996, said the key to good barbecue is in the prep work.
“There’s a lot of time and labor that goes into prepping this,” he said as he displayed several slabs cooking in the smokehouse behind the restaurant. “I’ve got to prep things for 12 to 14 to 16 hours. The brisket takes about 16 hours. The key is too cook low and slow.”
Nancy said everything they serve is fresh and made from scratch, including the four-cheese mac and cheese, a customer favorite, and the desserts, which are made by culinary students from the Boley Center, a recovery and rehabilitation program in St. Petersburg.
“People don’t realize we have alcohol,” she added. “Beer, barbecue and ice cream.”
With a new public parking lot scheduled to open soon behind the restaurant between South Ring and South Grosse avenues and a slew of new businesses coming to town, the Kaisers are excited to be part of the downtown Tarpon scene.
“The downtown is really being revitalized,” Mike Kaiser said, adding they might add a bar “sometime down the road.”
“It’s becoming a destination,” Nancy Kaiser said. “Everybody says, ‘eat local, shop local.’ You don’t need to leave town when you have everything right here.”