Olympic sprinters, food truck owners to open downtown Lawrence barbecue restaurant

photo by: Chad Lawhorn/Journal-World

Christina and Kyle Clemons plan to open Gold Medal BBQ Co. in the vacant space at 900 New Hampshire St. in downtown Lawrence. Plans call for the restaurant to open in early August.

Two Olympic sprinters — one former and one current — are opening a barbecue restaurant in downtown Lawrence. That makes it tempting to say there must be something in the sauce, but I know from experience that the only thing barbecue sauce quickens is the need for more Wet Wipes. (Or perhaps a walk-through at one of those auto car washes, if I tackle a full slab of ribs.)

The sauce, though, at Gold Medal BBQ Co. is expected to be pretty special. It is a seventh-place finisher at a recent Memphis in May event, which is one of the premier barbecue competitions in the country, said co-owner Kyle Clemons.

“But I also say that good barbecue doesn’t need sauce,” Clemons said. “But we will have sauce that is so good it will add to it.”

And, rest assured, Clemons has a high standard for good. He’s an Olympic gold medal winner, as a member of the 4×400 meter 2016 relay team that competed in the Rio de Janeiro Olympics. Clemons ran in those Olympics after completing a record-setting track and field career at the University of Kansas in 2013. Clemons is taking a year off from professional track while he sets up this restaurant, but his business partner definitely is not.

Clemons is married to Christina Clemons, who is set to compete in the upcoming Tokyo Olympics in the 100 meter hurdles. Christina — a former Ohio State track star — is now based in Lawrence, and is doing her training for the Olympics at KU, while also helping open Gold Medal BBQ.

“Right now, it is just about staying sharp at this point,” Christina said of her training schedule, which she said has her “only” doing workouts of about three hours at a time.

(I received no word on whether sampling the barbecue sauce is part of the training schedule, but I’m going to keep my working assumption that a certain amount of barbecue sauce is vital for proper lubrication of my joints and muscles.)

Gold Medal plans to open in early August in the space at Ninth and New Hampshire streets that formerly housed Lark a Fare, and before that the Port Fonda Mexican restaurant. The restaurant comes on the heels of the couple opening a food truck — also named Gold Medal BBQ — in 2019.

Look for the restaurant to include a heavy dose of traditional barbecue classics, such as pulled pork, brisket, chicken and ribs. Kyle said his recipes call for a mix of oak and hickory woods to add the smoke flavor to the dishes. The barbecue will have a Kansas City style to it — brisket will be an important component of the menu — but it also will have some Memphis barbecue influences as well. Kyle credits his barbecue knowledge to his father, who has operated a successful competition barbecue team out of Arkansas for years, and has long competed in the Memphis barbecue circuit.

“We’re not going to rely just on the wood for the flavor,” Kyle said. “We are going to have a really good dry rub. The meat will be really seasoned. A lot of places here don’t dry rub like they do in Memphis.”

In addition to the classic dishes, Kyle said the restaurant would have special days where it offers smoked turkey legs. Hamburgers also will be a regular part of the menu, and the establishment will feature a full bar.

But he thinks it will be a side dish that will be particularly popular. Christina makes a sweet potato casserole that quickly became a customer favorite on the food truck.

“She made it for us for the first time at Thanksgiving, and my grandma walked up to her and told her that dish was the talk of the town,” he said. “It is sweet, but there’s no marshmallows in it. I’m not going to tell the secret. I want to leave a little to the imagination.”

Christina said the restaurant was planning to do several things to get connected with the community.

“We want people to feel comfortable coming in here,” Christina said. “We want people to feel at home.”

Well, if your home includes two world-class sprinters. (I would have been much faster in such a home, because my continual life goal is to beat all my family members to the dinner table.) Both Kyle and Christina said they thought their lives as high-level athletic competitors would help them in the restaurant venture.

“In track and field we win or lose by milliseconds,” Kyle said. “We’re not going to neglect anything.”

They also aren’t going to be afraid to push a little harder.

“When you are running in the Olympics, it is brutal,” Kyle said. “You have your country across your chest. You don’t want to let anyone down. We’re not going to let anyone down with this either.”


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