From Smoke Stack to Jack Stack – The Fiorella Story
Bu Kathy Feist
Photos courtesy Diane Fiorella Marak
In 1957, Russ Fiorella dropped his pregnant wife, Flora, off at the hospital to give birth to their sixth child. While she was in labor, he quickly bought a roadhouse at 8129 Hickman Mills Dr. called The Lucky Inn. It was a surprise to everyone, especially his wife. But the purchase did prove to be lucky, not just for Russ and Flora, but for future generations. The Lucky Inn became Smoke Stack BBQ, now known as Jack Stack BBQ.
Russ was one of 14 children who grew up in an Italian family in Kansas City. Like his brothers, Russ ended up running a small neighborhood grocery store where he was also the butcher. In the late 50s, as large grocery chains began to chase out the small grocer, Russ chose to follow his passion for barbecuing.
“He was a barbecue enthusiast,” says Case Dorman, CEO of Jack Stack Barbecue and married to Russ’ granddaughter Jennifer Fiorella. “He barbecued on the weekend with family. He knew food.”
To help pay for the restaurant, he sold the seven-bedroom, seven-bathroom house in midtown Kansas City and moved the family into the second-floor apartment above the restaurant. At the time, there were six children: Carmen, Jack, Nick, Mary, Russell and Carol. Six years later, the family moved to larger quarters and the youngest, Diane, was soon born.
Anyone who met Russ knew him to be quite a character.
“He was never a stranger to anyone,” recalls daughter Diane Fiorella Marak who remembers him always sitting behind the register.
There were two things Russ did not permit on the premises, according to Diane. They were phones and alcohol. As a result of having no phone, long lines of customers would form down the sidewalk waiting to place an order.
In the late 60s, a pit fire burned down the restaurant. “Once he rebuilt, the business took hold,” says Diane.
Family Branches Out
Some of the children followed in their father’s footsteps. Mary opened a Smoke Stack off 85th and Wornall Rd, (now a Kentucky Fried Chicken) before moving it to 89th and Wornall Rd. The restaurant, now called The Stack, has new ownership but most of the same offerings.
Russell opened a Smoke Stack in Liberty, MO. It had a short run. (His son Alex has remained in the restaurant business working alongside his mother Leasa Caron, who owns Jovitos at 123rd & State Line.)
When their father died in 1986, Carol and Diane ran the original site. It closed in 1999.
The Jack Stack Empire
In 1974 Russ and eldest son Jack opened Fiorella’s Jack Stack BBQ in Martin City. The building was the former Hickory Pit BBQ owned by famed TV fisherman Harold Ensley. It was located next to Jess and Jim’s Steakhouse in Martin City. “It got a lot of recognition being next to them,” says Case. In 1978, the restaurant moved to its present location at 135th Street and Holmes Road.
Jack also opened his own restaurant, the Hatfield and McCoys at 79th St. and Marty Rd. in Overland Park, KS. There he began introducing new items while maintaining the same Smoke Stack recipes. Due to the economic challenges at the time, Jack had to close the store in 1981. He returned to the Martin City location in 1982.
“He had incredible grit,” says Case. “He threw himself into Jack Stack with everything he had.” and two dining rooms to the building.
Jack and his wife Delores envisioned a barbecue restaurant with full-service, upscale dining. They added two dining rooms to the building and soon began expanding the menu.
“Delores was passionate about women driving the dining decisions,” says Case. Grilled fish, chicken, steak and lamb were added to the menu. Their two children, Kevin and Jennifer, helped run the restaurant and in 1987 were joined by Jennifer’s husband, Case, then a computer technician.
In the early 90s, the restaurant offered catering and private dining.
In 1997, the Overland Park store opened, followed by the Freight House location in 2000 and the Plaza location in 2006. A shipping division began in the early 2000s.
In 2009, Jack and Delores sold the business to Case and Jennifer. In 2016, the Lee’s Summit location was built.
Today, Jack Stack Barbecue has evolved into the largest, full-service wood cookery in the industry. The restaurant has catered events all over the nation. It has won numerous awards and much recognition, both locally and nationally.
Case hopes to keep it in the family. Recently, his 24-year-old son Keaton joined the catering division.
Smoke Stack Revival
The original Smoke Stack building was demolished soon after it closed. But 60 years later it is being revived in the form of convenience store carry-out.
MFA Oil just announced that it would be featuring Smokestack BAR.B.Que at its 74 Break Time convenience stores as each becomes renovated. One is already operating at a newly built Break Time in Lee’s Summit (near Lakewood).
Diane is excited about the partnership. “They say it’s doing really well,” she said. Diane oversees the Smoke Stack Barbecue retail brand, such as the potato salad, coleslaw and beans found in many grocery stores.
She thinks about her father’s humble beginnings and how far his business has come.
“If he was here today, he would just be very, very proud,” says Diane.