It started with an idea to serve Missouri State Fair visitors “quality beef like no other,” 34 years ago, and from that idea, the Missouri Beef House was born.
Patty Wood, who began volunteering at the Beef House in 1982 when it first opened and who now manages the restaurant, said “Doc” Wayne Smith was the first to propose the idea for a restaurant at the Fair dedicated to beef.
“Doc came to me one day and said, ‘Why can’t we sell our product the way the pork people do?” because at the time the Pork Association had a restaurant and we didn’t.” Wood said. “We started thinking about it and decided why not and that’s how we began.
“Today we serve on average 2,000 people a day between the Beef House and the Beef House express which is located right behind us,” Wood added. “We do it because of the pride we have for our product and for our customers, we want them to experience quality mid-west raised beef.”
Wood has a staff of 20 paid employees and 700 to 800 volunteers annually who help during the 11 day run of the Fair.
The volunteers are members of the 90 county affiliates from the Missouri Cattleman’s Association.
Fifty-four of the county affiliates send volunteers to work.
“So many of our volunteers come back year after year and there is absolutely no way I could ever make happen without them and my staff,” Wood said gratefully. “The volunteers come from all over the state and many of them bring their entire family to help.
“One of the things we encourage is to have them talk about their beef stories while they are helping our customers,” Wood added. “Customer satisfaction is our No. 1 priority and we want everyone to feel welcome and at home when they are here.”
Three times a day during the Fair, Wood trains the 15 to 30 volunteers who cover each of the restaurants three shifts.
“I go over everything with our volunteers from their job descriptions to the health regulations we are required to follow to how they should treat our guests,” Wood said. “We have volunteers who range in age from 14 to their 60s and no matter what they all pitch in and do whatever it takes to make it work.
“I always say we play as a team and it works,” she added. “It’s amazing when everyone pitches in and I know that whatever we do we’re in this together.”
Wood’s paid staff includes the kitchen manager and grillers as well as the cashier and order takers.
“There are things that have to be done in a certain way every day for this to work and for us to be able to serve our customers in the manner we do,” Wood said. “I have a picture in the back that says ‘I’m not bossy, I have leadership skills-understand.’
“I really like that,” she added with a laugh. “I’ve been working here for so many years, I’ve watched what others have done and I tweaked some of their ideas as well as some of my own but I always say no matter how good my organizational skills are, you have to have the people for this to work.”
The Wood family knows about work at the Beef House since the entire family has taken their turn helping in one capacity or another.
“We always used to laugh about the fact that our son Brian used to work on the live side of the beef business when he worked at the beef shows at the Coliseum and Stacey, our daughter, and Pat (Wood’s husband) and I worked on the dead end side of it here at the Beef House,” Wood said smiling. “We promote cattle, that’s our livelihood and we love being here.”
“For me I keep doing this because of the people,” she added. “Some of them I may not see except for one time a year but I don’t mind, I always look forward to seeing them again, and they are why I love being a part of this.”
While the people are a constant for Wood, many changes have been made to the Beef House itself since it first opened.
According to Wood the building, which was constructed in the early 1900’s was in rough shape when the Cattlemen’s Association first occupied it.
“The floors were wooden and both the walls and the floors had holes that we would have to patch each year before we could even think about setting up,” Wood said. “There were old windows with window air conditioning units that made it impossible to see out.
“The Fair renovated the dining area including adding a concrete floor and pillars for the roof,” she added. “We (the Cattlemen’s Association) renovated the kitchen and doubled the size of it, configuring it for what we needed to do to serve our customers. A lot of people may not know that we have two meat cutters here who cut all of our rib eyes on site and now we all have our work stations instead of us being on top of one another like we used to be.”
Other renovations included the side door and patio seating area in 2004, which received another make over this year with the completion of a steel structure and metal roof.
The Beef House Express was opened in 2000 to help serve customers and quicken the amount of time diners stood in line at the restaurant.
“We’re not just open during the Fair,” Wood said. “We’re open for a number of special events during the year so we’re always working and trying to improve.
“I always have a list at the door and anytime we think of something we can do to make something better we put it down,” she said, “There is a Beef House Committee and we always try to meet by Sept. 1 to discuss what we want to focus on for the next Fair.”
Tuesday afternoon, Wood was reflecting on some of the changes that have happened to the restaurant since its inception with Doc Smith.
One thing they both agreed upon was that although the building may have physically changed, the commitment to serving a quality product to their customers would not.
“I’m really proud of this place,” Smith said fondly. “I think this is my 65th Fair that I have attended and there is no finer place to eat at the Fair.
“My fondest memory is when it started,” he added. “It wasn’t easy, and a lot of cowboys and cowgirls worked hard to make it happen.”
Smith gave praise to Wood for her dedication and work over the years at the Beef House.
“I tell her every year that she needs to try to find some younger ones to try to learn what she does,” Smith said. “She does a whale of a good job but age can catch up with a person.”
Before Wood returned to the kitchen, leaving Smith to continue to greet customers as they entered the restaurant, the two friends remembered a story about making sure that the Beef House customers always received the best quality food.
“One time a man asked me if I really knew the difference between a quality steak or not,” Smith said. “I told him I may not know at my age, but my false teeth can sure tell.”
Both he and Wood laughed before another visitor left the restaurant thanking them for their meal adding they would return to see them again to enjoy a meal before the Fair ends.
Hope Lecchi can be reached at 660-826-1000 ext. 1484.