A James Beard semifinalist for “Outstanding Pastry Chef” with recipes published in numerous national publications including Bon Appétit, Food & Wine, The Wall Street Journal, and Saveur, Megan Garrelts co-owns and operates Bluestem in Kansas City, MO a three-time semi-finalist for the James Beard Foundation’s “Outstanding Restaurant” and rye with locations in Kansas City, MO and Leawood KS, alongside her husband, Colby. She also leads the pastry programs at both eateries, managing kitchen teams, evolving dessert menus, and ensuring consistency. Bluestem, with its progressive American tasting menus, and Rye, with its Midwest comfort fare and laid-back nature, both feature a sweet side inspired by Megan’s childhood that offers nostalgic dishes with homespun flavors. “The greatest feeling is the sound of laughter and joy when people eat at either of our establishments.”
How did you get into the industry?
I began working at 15 in a local restaurant in my hometown of Naperville, IL, I always loved to bake and was given an opportunity by the chef of my first restaurant job to stage for an evening and I was hooked!
Any emerging industry trends?
The advancement of woman and more female lead restaurants, kitchens, and business owners is a great growth for the industry.
Any industry opportunities or challenges?
Staffing in the restaurant business has always been hard, however I feel like the labor pool now is fewer that it has ever been. I blame this on the lack of schools to focus on the trades. To be able to do something like a craft is a skill no one can take from you and every town, city, country, etc. there are people who need to eat and many ways to feed people either as a luxury outing or a service opportunity. I think schools and educators need to return to the trades again.
Inspiration for the business idea, and your vision for the Business?
My husband and I both grew up in the Midwest, me from Illinois and him from Kansas, we wanted our restaurants to share our love of the Midwest. Our first restaurant bluestem is a fine dining establishment that share this vision in a tasting menu format. Our second and third restaurants rye showcase more of the Midwest comfort foods we grew up on and a true celebration of Kansas City with fried chicken, bbq, and pie.
What's next for the business in the near future?
We recently opened our third restaurant, at only 6 months old I would say that is currently what’s next for us as we are still neutering our new space and getting our team more cohesive, food more consistent, and guest relations for return business.
Your key initiatives for the success of the Business?
Partnering with our current business owners at rye was a turning point because we finally had mentors that understood the business and were on our team to help us grow. Many chefs/entrepreneurs have investors and partners, but some come only with the check book. When you have partners that live and breathe the same passion as you do growth, success, and the dream gets stronger.
Your most difficult moment at the Business? (and what did you learn?)
Learning to read our financial statements was very challenging and once we understood those how to fix them. Our first restaurant was quite a challenge in the early days to run on a tight budget and quite frankly to keep open some months. Once we understood the mechanics of making the money work we knew we could fix the things we needed to continue our dream and keep our staff employed.
Ideal experience for a customer/client?
When guests forget about us and enjoy their time with the friends, family, associates, and anyone they dined with always feels like we have done our job when the details are inline so guests can sit back, eat, drink, laugh a little or a lot and remember the experience that they created at their table for the day or night. Eating is very social joining people at a table should in most cases be a time for celebration and I am always honored when people choose one of my restaurants to have that special time at.
How do you motivate others?
Thanking our team on a regular basis and reminding them they are an asset to our vision helps to keep people motivated and engaged. When you team feels like they are important and respected in the goals and dreams for the company they bring their all to the kitchen, dining room, and office.
Career advice to those in your industry?
The restaurant industry is one of the hardest environments to call home every day. You must love what you do and stay motivated to work and work hard. I see many young chefs get into the business with the idea of fame and fortune and many do not survive the day to day requirements that owning a restaurant will need. To stay focused creatively can be a daunting task when combined with administrative duties, guest relations, personal issues, building repairs, and the everyday reviews and critiques that can wear on any entrepreneur. Stay calm and keep the dream clear.
What do I do best?
Keeping myself and people organized, I believe I am a master at this from a clean space to a clean computer!
What makes me the best version of myself?
A strong work ethic from a very young age I believe is why I am where I am today. Starting in a kitchen at 15 and opening my first restaurant at 23 I’ve been in the biz for a while now and every day brings a new challenge, success, and opportunity for growth that with the years I have behind me only makes me feel like a better version each day I personally grow with my business.
What are my aspirations?
I am always aspiring personally to be happy, life is too short to not do what you love and surround yourself with people who feel the same. In business financial goals like getting our stores debt free is always exciting to think about and work towards having a strong business both fiscally and service wise is a daily focus to stay on top of what we do.
My Biggest Success?
Probably the birth of my kiddos, Madi is 11 and my son is 7, I have two healthy cute kids and at the end of the day we do this for them as well as ourselves.
My Most Challenging Moment?
Opening a restaurant is always a challenge, there are so many details and when we recently opened our third restaurant in November 2017 keeping our other two stores afloat with guests and staff happy while we expanded came with highs and lows.
Just dive in
My Favorite People/Role Models?
My husband is pretty fun he does all the restaurant jazz with me and he’s my favorite chef! My mom is amazing, I learned to bake with her and I can call her anytime with anything on my mind. My late grandmother Mary has inspired me to be a strong woman and her love for tea and cookies stays with me today. Lastly Martha Stewart, she’s just great!
My Favorite Places/Destinations?
Michel Bras in Laguiole, France was a top bucket list for my husband and I. We traveled there to dine and spent the night in the inn. It was everything we hoped it would be and a memory I will never forget!
My Favorite Products/Objects?
In the biz – my kitchen aid, my off-set serrated wustof knife, a full, clean set of ring cutters (pastry chefs are a bit OCD), a great table set for entertaining, my milk glass cake stands, chocolate & cheese I could never live without those in my diet
At home – clean sheets, my shoes a girl loves her shoes, my 115-pound puppy Hutch a bernese mountain dog, a hot pot of tea with milk & sugar
My Current Passions?
Trying to find as much time to relax and vacation with my family! Work hard, play hard!