When Ellis County native Philip Kuhn was 9, he was through with eating grilled cheese and peanut butter and jelly sandwiches. He decided to start cooking some specialty items for his four siblings.
At 33, armed with years of experience, a culinary degree and a successful downtown restaurant, Kuhn is ready to be inventive again. Along with opening a barbecue restaurant, he’s starting a specialty market, which includes meats and homegrown lettuce produced in his basement.
Kuhn learned how to make bierocks from his great-aunt Vi and how to fry bacon from his grandmother. After graduating from Hays High School, he attended culinary school at the Art Institute of Colorado and worked for restaurants in Dodge City and Hutchinson. Five years ago, he headed home to Hays to open his own restaurant, The Press.
On Nov. 30, Kuhn will open his second restaurant, Blue Smoke Barbecue, this time at 804 Main St. in Hays. Always inventing, Kuhn is having fun deciding which rubs and barbecue sauces he will use in his new restaurant.
"It’s going to be a lot of the regions thrown into one place," Kuhn said. "We’ll have Kansas City, Memphis, Carolina and Texas."
Kuhn said Kansas City barbecue has more of a molasses taste. Carolina is more vinegar based. Memphis uses dry mustard, and Texas leans toward a hot chili flavor.
Along with a variety of rubs and sauces, the menu will feature a special jambalaya and a spiced-up macaroni and cheese with barbecued burnt ends.
Kuhn will also mix his own sodas at the half-century-old soda fountain and serve homemade ice cream, including root beer floats.
In addition to the new restaurant, in January, Kuhn is opening a grocery next door — Kuhn’s Market. Along with necessities for downtown clientele, the market will feature Kansas-made food products, including honey, mustard and jelly. He also plans to bring in fresh meat, eventually from nearby ranchers. And he will sell his homemade ice cream.
"We’re going to try to get as local as possible. To me, Kansas is local," Kuhn said. "It’s important for me to serve good food to everyone."
In the basement of the market, Kuhn will set up a hydroponic garden where he will grow lettuce, herbs and tomatoes.
Upstairs from the market, Kuhn is building three lofts. He plans to live in one of them.
Along with feeding walk-in customers, Kuhn provides meals to children at both a children’s hospital and a nursery school.
"This passion I have for food, I try to send it out to everyone," Kuhn said. "It’s a unique opportunity for me being a part of this downtown community and being able to give back to it."