Cooking Up Success in the Restaurant Business

Hosted By

Alana Muller

CEO & Founder
Coffee Lunch Coffee

Podcast Guest

Megan & Colby Garrelts


Episode Summary

Megan and Colby Garrelts, Chefs and Proprietors of the Rye restaurants in Kansas City, share highlights throughout their life-long career journeys within the restaurant business. Learn how the Garrelts’ business grew and evolved over the years to align with their personal and professional goals.

“If you want to be a part of (the restaurant business), you better be well-steeped in it. And you really have to spend your time doing it in order for it to be successful.”



Alana Muller 0:09
Welcome to, a podcast from Enterprise Bank & Trust that's empowering business leaders one conversation at a time. Each week, we'll hear from top business professionals about lessons on leadership and entrepreneurship that they've learned along the way. I'm your host, Alana Muller, an entrepreneurial executive leader whose primary focus is to connect, inspire and empower community. We at Enterprise Bank & Trust thank you for tuning in to another episode.

Alana Muller 0:41
Listeners, we're cooking up a delicious episode for you today. From their famous all natural, free-range, crispy fried chicken, to tart and puckery lemon meringue pie, husband and wife chef-owners Colby and Megan Garrelts have spent a decade serving up chef-driven comfort foods based on traditional Midwestern recipes. The couple opened Rye, their first upscale urban farmhouse concept in December 2012 in Leawood, Kansas to rave reviews. "Made in America: A Modern Collection of Classic Recipes,” a cookbook featuring many of the restaurant's signature dishes, debuted in the spring of 2015.

Alana Muller 1:17
With the success of their first Rye location, the Garrelts opened a second Rye location on the Country Club Plaza in November of 2017. The Garrelts have continued to grow their hospitality brand to include a robust workforce of 150 employees, while simultaneously nurturing the careers of notable alumni and friends. I must admit Rye is not only one of my favorite local restaurants in the Kansas City area, but I've been going to their restaurants for many, many years. So I'm delighted to welcome Colby and Megan Garrelts to podcast. Welcome.

Megan Garrelts 1:51
Thank you so much.

Colby Garrelts 1:52
Thanks for having us.

Alana Muller 1:54
Well, I am delighted to have you both here. As you heard, I've been a fan of your fare since the days of your first restaurant Bluestem in Kansas City's Westport neighborhood. And Megan, if you would, kick off our conversation by sharing what prompted you and Colby to get into the restaurant business in the first place?

Megan Garrelts 2:09
Well, we grew up in separate parts of the country. But similar, I'm originally from the suburbs of Chicago, and Colby is a Kansas City native. And we both were in and out of kitchens in our younger years, both in our high school days. We fell into loving just the environment of being in restaurants and kitchens and kind of that camaraderie that you have that I think is no other than what a kitchen can provide, or a restaurant community when a family is what it really truly feels like.

Megan Garrelts 2:38
And we both are creative people. We like to work with our hands. We’re not "sit at a desk" kind of personalities. And from an early young age, we both fell in love with restaurants and continued on. I had went to culinary school in New York, got a degree in baking and pastry, and Colby was at Johnson County Community College for culinary as well. And then from there, you just network and you meet people and you move on to other cities. And we kind of did that to grow and learn before we came back to Kansas City to open our own restaurant. So a little bit of a nutshell there.

Alana Muller 3:12
I love that. And I want to circle back actually on some of that. But Colby, you and Megan have been recognized with numerous awards and accolades from many recognizable organizations like James Beard, Food and Wine, the Wall Street Journal, Savor magazine and Bon Appétit. How do you stay grounded and also maintain your creative entrepreneurial spirit with so much attention being paid to your work?

Colby Garrelts 3:33
I think it's just been kind of a marathon and not a race. It started when we opened Bluestem and I think that at the time we were young, and that was kind of part of the business plan, part of the game plan was... in that era, in the early 2000s, that's kind of how you got your name out there. It's the way you filled seats. So, the award side of things was something that we focused on very early on, and then it just kind of came pretty naturally. And I don't know, I mean, we're pretty humble. “Introverted” is not quite the word, but we're kind of grounded people. And it, just to us, it just kind of came with the territory. And we just kind of let it manifest into where it is now.

Megan Garrelts 4:11
Yeah, a lot of the chefs that we both worked for, I mean, they were all Beard award winners, or their restaurants were highly celebrated. And so for us, that just seemed like part of what chefs did.

Colby Garrelts 4:23
What you're supposed to do.

Megan Garrelts 4:24

Alana Muller 4:25
So it wasn't like it was something set aside or taking away from your roots. So I really like that. That's nice. Megan, I'm going to come back to you. We're talking about keeping relationships going. And I want to ask you about your relationship base and how that's played a role in your success. So starting from the first restaurant in Westport, did your clients follow you to each new location? And did you have to start from scratch? How did that work for you over the years?

Megan Garrelts 4:48
Well, we truly started from scratch at Bluestem. I mean, looking back at it, it's almost laughable. I mean, we opened our restaurant when smoking sections were still a thing and reservation books were still handwritten. I mean, it was in the days when OpenTable was brand new.

Colby Garrelts 5:02
We had a cash register.

Megan Garrelts 5:02
Yeah, we had a cash register when we opened, we didn't even have...

Alana Muller 5:05
Cash register!

Megan Garrelts 5:06
Yeah, so we truly opened, I mean, Bluestem would be 20 years old this March of 2024. So, back in those days, there wasn't even social media. I mean, there wasn't an announcement of, like, "coming soon, check us out, here's a restaurant." I remember, we printed off flyers and made our own brochures, basically, and hand delivered them to The Kansas City Star and The Pitch and any local publications we could, just to get our name out there, and just some kind of buzz that something was happening.

Megan Garrelts 5:35
And I think at the time, it was a good time for Kansas City where they needed something new. And Colby being a native of the region, the city rather, he knew what kind of buttons to press in town of where to be and who to talk to. And we just did it naturally. And through that time, the demographic of who comes to Rye and Bluestem is very similar. But there's also some differences. I mean, Midtown is one part of the city. And then opening in Leawood is a totally different part of the city, more suburban, more people that like to stay closer to home. So I do think we've reached beyond a few different types of clientele with the opening of Rye, but the core that I think people would go back and forth when Bluestem was still open. And then of course, when we opened our Plaza location.

Alana Muller 6:21
Well, and I think about the way that I originally... when I first moved back to Kansas City, now, a long time ago, I remember a girlfriend of mine was working for, at the time, Nation's Restaurant News. And she wanted to know if I had heard about that cool restaurant in Westport called Bluestem. And that's how I first learned about your restaurant and learned about the two of you. So I think that so much of it is word of mouth, but you're obviously delivering a quality product that people want to come back for. So it doesn't surprise me that after you were able to generate some of that word of mouth, you actually got people to come back, not just to Bluestem, but then to follow you to Rye.

Colby Garrelts 6:55
I think a lot of it, too, was just the quality of work we were doing at the time. And even what we do at Rye, a lot of the principles that we did at Bluestem spilled over. Obviously, it's a lot bigger, it's a lot higher volume, but you know, just the attention to details is important.

Megan Garrelts 7:09
It's a more casual concept. I mean, Bluestem was our baby for many years. But it was also a place that our family, they would come, but we wanted a place that we could take our little kids, at the time. They're now 13 and 16. But for you know, if we wanted to pop in and have family dinner, I mean, Bluestem wasn't always that kind of environment. Maybe in the lounge, but it just kind of became out of a want for, selfishly, for us to have a family restaurant in addition to our fine dining restaurant at the time.

Alana Muller 7:09
That's neat. That kind of leads me to something else I'm going to ask you about. Colby, what's something that you're working on now that you're especially excited about?

Colby Garrelts 7:46
So right now, come this spring, we are the consulting chefs on the Current project, the stadium.

Alana Muller 7:51
Oh, neat. Yeah.

Colby Garrelts 7:52
And that is our focus right now. And we just had a Zoom call this morning with the chef and one of the managers with the stadium, and we've got opening dates, and we need to get together and make sure we nail down everything. So really our focus right now is on the Current stadium.

Alana Muller 8:07
So for listeners who may not be familiar with the Current, talk a little bit about what is the Current, what is KC Current?

Colby Garrelts 8:12
The KC Current is the women's professional soccer team here in Kansas City. And they're getting ready to open up the very first women's pro stadium in any sport ever.

Megan Garrelts 8:24
In the world. Yeah.

Colby Garrelts 8:24
In the world.

Megan Garrelts 8:25
In Kansas City.

Alana Muller 8:26
So amazing.

Colby Garrelts 8:26
So it's pretty cool.

Alana Muller 8:28
Well, that's so neat that you're involved in that project. And I'm sure that for whatever challenges it poses, you're gonna have such a blast working on that. That's great.

Colby Garrelts 8:36
The leadership there and everything that's going on right now is... we're so excited. It's gonna be incredible.

Megan Garrelts 8:43
It's definitely a high focus on local efforts. We've helped select a lot of local partnerships for other restaurants and chefs to be a part of it. Very sustainable, allergen-friendly stadium, which is new, like everything's state-of-the-art. So it's going to be really exciting for Kansas City and soccer fans alike, but cool to be a part of it.

Alana Muller 9:04
How did chefs or restaurateurs engage with you, or how did you engage with them to become part of the project?

Colby Garrelts 9:11
We just kind of put together a list of our favorite people and the people that we thought had products that would really fit well, stuff that's consistent. Operators that have the capacity to do something outside of their walls and understand what kind of project it is. So yeah, I mean, we just ran, I think everyone we talked to ended up wanting to be a part of it. So...

Megan Garrelts 9:32
Yeah absolutely. And some of them, you'll see familiar faces, like Joe's Kansas City Barbecue is gonna have a sandwich feature. And then you've got places like Billy's Groceries, that their whole center of their business is gluten-free, allergen-free, female-owned, so it made sense to have them a part of the project. So it's an ever-growing list. I know that through the years we'll probably see some people come and go, just with availability and time for their project, but it's gonna be a really great startup here in spring.

Alana Muller 10:02
So special, I really like that. I'm also thinking about, not only your own business that has developed, this new business that you're hoping to kick off, what's the best piece of professional advice that you've received? And I know that even your kids, at least at some point, have been their own sort of young budding chefs. What advice do you impart to them about the joys and challenges of business ownership? Colby, why don't you start us off and Megan join in.

Colby Garrelts 10:26
The biggest thing I've ever learned about the restaurant business is it's something that you truly have to be kind of, when I say born in, and not in the physical sense, but that's the only thing that Megan and I have ever done in our entire lives. I've never had a job in any other line of work ever. So I think that's really important in the restaurant business.

Colby Garrelts 10:46
On the professional side of it, is just to realize that it's kind of a lifelong journey. And if you want to be a part of it, you better be well-steeped in it. It's much easier to work for someone and watch them make mistakes. And so you can learn from them, rather than going into the business inexperienced and kind of learning things the hard way. So I mean, it is a craft. I think it's a craft or a vocation, just like plumbing, or electrical, or whatever. It's something that you really have to start young. And you really have to spend your time doing it in order for it to be successful.

Alana Muller 11:22
Not surprising. Megan, is there anything that you would add to in terms of advice you've received or advice you would give to somebody else who was, sort of, engaging in their own sort of entrepreneurial journey?

Megan Garrelts 11:34
I think having a partner is good, whether you have an investment partner or a partner like... I mean, I'm talking in a sense more of like, my husband and I both do this together. So, he does the things I don't want to do, and I do the things he doesn't want to do within our company. And we also have different expertise.

Megan Garrelts 11:51
So you know, the one thing I do hear repeatedly with entrepreneurs is to hire people that know more than you. And that's definitely true. I mean, especially with the media and social media and digital things that have come around having a marketing person, for example. I mean, I'm not great online with those kinds of things. So, hiring people that can help us grow people with new ideas. We always kind of sometimes we feel like we're in our little bubble of what we know and think about what we should be doing with our concept.

Megan Garrelts 12:19
But we're always open to our team to make suggestions, contribute to the menu, come up with event ideas, or anything else in between. But like Colby said, one of the hardest things about the restaurant business is if you haven't been doing it your whole life. And same with Colby. I mean, this is really the only job I've ever had is, I've been in restaurants. And especially on the culinary side, given the fact that we know food, we see a lot of owners that maybe don't have the kitchen side of expertise. So, they don't know when food is off or chefs are doing something different on their menus. So, I think it's really a good two-sided way to how we run our company is that we know the front, the business angles, as well as the food to the core.

Alana Muller 13:03
Completely ingrained in the business. Well, so I know you've both been asked this question before but I have to ask also. From each of you, what's your favorite dish to prepare? Colby, why don't you start and talk about the entrée side of life, and Megan you can talk about your favorite dessert to prepare.

Colby Garrelts 13:18
This is gonna be a boring answer, but it really depends on what time of year it is.

Alana Muller 13:22

Colby Garrelts 13:23
Right now it's winter. I love to braise stuff in Dutch ovens and simple things from maybe lamb shanks or veal shanks to pot roast and stuff like that, that you just want to eat in the winter. It's all root vegetables and warm, especially staring outside with all the snow right now, just warm food. And then I go the opposite direction. As soon as spring hits its peas, it's ramps, it's morels.

Colby Garrelts 13:47
So I don't really have favorite dishes. But I have favorite ingredients that are kind of seasonal. And I joke about this all the time, but I'm very organic when I cook in the sense that I don't follow recipes, I just get a bunch of stuff together and I just cook and that is truly what I enjoy about cooking the very most is just I don't know what I'm gonna do tonight. I've got all this stuff and I'm just gonna make something out of it.

Megan Garrelts 14:09
Braised food is definitely my favorite when Colby makes... like… I want ossobuco all the time. And he's like, "We can't have that, it's the summer." And I'm like, "No, no, we can make it."

Colby Garrelts 14:20
She'll eat a bowl of soup in 80 degree weather.

Megan Garrelts 14:23
I love overcooked braised meats and dead vegetables, as we call them, well, like we laugh... Chefs always say, some chefs will say, that braising is kind of... you're overcooking it forever.

Alana Muller 14:35
You're making my mouth water, I have to say. But that's fun. That's fun.

Alana Muller 14:40
What's your favorite dessert to make, Megan?

Megan Garrelts 14:42
For dessert? I mean, I love making people birthday cakes. I started with our kids when they were young. It was the only time I could really do like Batman cakes and Strawberry Shortcake cakes and things that were truly fun for the kiddos and then you know, it's always, you always light up somebody's face when you think of them and there's a cake with their name on it and candles. But I also like making soufflés, when they work. Sometimes they don't always work out.

Alana Muller 15:06

Megan Garrelts 15:06
The eggs are not happy. But soufflés are fun. That's always like a crowd pleaser and good for any time of the year, too. So probably my two favorites. We used to do soufflés a lot at Bluestem in the early days, and it was definitely a crowd pleaser.

Alana Muller 15:21
Well, bring it back at Rye. I'll come by and I'll let you know how it is.

Megan Garrelts 15:25
I don't know about there, but I mean pie is definitely, of course, my favorite as far as what's ingrained in me at home. Those are the two things, and I'll do soufflés for the holidays.

Alana Muller 15:36
Oh, that's so fun. So fun. Well, there's, there's a question I ask of every guest who's been on and I want to ask each of you and give you each a chance to respond. And the question is this: if you could have coffee with one person, it could be anybody living, not living, fictional or nonfictional, who would it be and why? Colby, why don't you start us and tell us who you would meet.

Colby Garrelts 15:56
There's a restaurateur in Chicago. His name's Kevin Boehm. He owns Boca Restaurant Group. And that may sound... I don't know if that's boring or not, but he is very, very, very good at the restaurant business. And they've got I don't know, I feel like they've got like 20 plus stores now. All over the... And I've actually talked to him before. We've met him and I've had, I've been on the phone with him for I don't remember what it was for, it was quite a few years ago, but he's somebody that really fascinates me in the business. Yeah, it'd probably be Kevin, for sure.

Alana Muller 16:26
Love that. Megan, how about you?

Megan Garrelts 16:28
My person, I've actually met her as well, but it was briefly, would be Martha Stewart. I mean, I completely adore her through all her ups and downs and prison and everything in between. I just think also, she's fascinating. And she kind of embodies... I love what we do in the restaurant business. But I love just like home decor and interiors and fantasize about having a house in Maine. I mean, all the things that she has and does, I would love to just chat with her and be a part of her world for an hour or a day or something. But yeah, she's fantastic.

Alana Muller 16:59
So fun, that's a great response. Well, I have loved having you both on as you can tell them I'm a fan girl, so you'll be seeing me around for sure. But Megan and Colby Garrelts of Rye, where can our listeners go to learn more about the two of you and your business?

Megan Garrelts 17:14
Then go to our website, which is We also have social media. We're on Instagram, Twitter, formerly, now X, I guess, and you can find us in Leawood, Kansas and in Kansas City, Missouri on the Plaza, our two locations.

Alana Muller 17:31
Terrific. Thank you both for being on podcast.

Megan Garrelts 17:34

Colby Garrelts 17:34
Thanks for having us.

Alana Muller 17:37
Thanks for joining us this week on Be sure to visit our website, to subscribe so you'll never miss an episode. If you found value in today's program, please consider leaving a review on Apple Podcasts or telling a friend about us., powering business leaders, one conversation at a time.

Alana Muller 18:02
The views expressed by presenters or guests are those of the presenter or guests and not necessarily of Enterprise Bank & Trust or its affiliates. All content of this podcast and any related materials are for informational purposes only. Enterprise Bank & Trust does not make any warranty, expressed or implied, including warranties of merchantability and fitness for a particular purpose, and specifically disclaims any legal liability or responsibility for the accuracy, completeness or usefulness of any information presented. Enterprise Bank & Trust is not under any obligation to update or correct any information provided in this podcast. All statements and opinions are subject to change without notice.