It's not easy finding a good chicken wing 1,000 miles from Buffalo, but when Western New York natives walk into Al’s Bar and Grill in a northern suburb of Kansas City, they not only find an authentic wing, but a place just like home.
With Bills and Sabres memorabilia throughout, the sports bar feels like something you’d find in Buffalo. That’s exactly what the owner, Hamburg native Al Burns, was going for when he opened the bar in Parkville, Mo.
Burns, his wife, Tracey, and their three sons, Shawn, Ryan, and Timmy, made the Midwest home in January 1996, when they moved so he could advance his career in pharmaceutical sales.
At the time, Burns' former boss had relocated to Kansas City for work, and recruited Burns to join him.
“He made me an offer I couldn’t refuse,” Burns said.
So the Bishop Timon graduate and his family packed up and moved to Kansas City. Burns worked in pharmaceutical sales for several years until his wife received a promotion working for the YMCA headquarters, where she had been since 2005.
With less financial risk, Burns finally had the opportunity to pursue his lifelong dream of opening a bar. It happened in January 2010.
“I told my wife, ‘It’s my turn. I’ve always wanted to do this, and I’m going to do it,’” Burns said.
Names: Al and Tracey Burns
Ages: 63 (Al) and 55 (Tracey)
Current location: Parkville, Mo. (a northern suburb of Kansas City)
Previous location: Clarence
Miss most about Buffalo: Family, Lake Erie, the food: pizza, wings, beef on weck
Love about Kansas City: "Winter" weather, affordable cost of living, friendly people, loyalty to sports teams, the barbecue
One of the things Burns missed most about Buffalo was the chicken wing, something no one else seemed able to replicate in Kansas City.
“I saw an opportunity here because the chicken wings were terrible,” he said.
So when Burns opened Al’s Bar and Grill, authentic chicken wings were one of the first items he put on the menu. Prior to “Al’s”, you would have been hard-pressed to find a place in Kansas City offering wings as hot, medium or mild, or even with bleu cheese. Most places serve wings with ranch dressing.
Burns says it took a while for his bar to become established as the go-to place for good wings.
Four years ago, he became an official Bills Backer bar. Burns said that is when ex-Western New Yorkers started coming in for the wings, and just kept coming back.
Pull into the Al's Bar and Grill parking lot on a Sunday during a Bills game and you will see Bills decals and flags on vehicles. Walk in and you are immediately greeted by Burns, who takes the time to get to know all of his customers.
Bills and Sabres gear are positioned throughout the bar, including a large Bills helmet decal on the back wall as the centerpiece, and an autographed Tyler Myers jersey prominently displayed.
“I wanted to create a neighborhood bar like I remembered back home,” he said. “Like something you’d find off of Abbott Road or Seneca Street.”
With all Bills and Sabres games broadcast in the bar, Al’s Bar and Grill can make homesick Buffalonians feel like they are back in the Queen City.
For Burns, Kansas City, and specifically Parkville, with its antique shops and proximity to the Missouri River, is home now. He loves the not-so-harsh winters, the barbecue, and the Kansas Citians with their shared love of their sports teams.
“The fans here are just as loyal and crazy about the Chiefs as we are about our Bills,” Burns said.
Despite all that, he and his family miss Buffalo and the friends and family still living there. His eldest son, Scott, and his family are in Buffalo, and try to visit Kansas City with the grandkids a couple times a year. Burns and his wife come back to Buffalo three or four times a year. Burns' other sons, Timmy and Shawn, who also live in Kansas City, get back occasionally for Bills games.
Burns also misses Lake Erie, and says the lakes and rivers of Kansas and Missouri cannot compare to a great lake.
“What I miss, it’s kind of hard to put into words,” Burns said. “But I miss Buffalo. I miss a real lake.”
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Alison Russo grew up in the Southtowns and currently lives in a suburb of Kansas City with her husband, Joe, and their two children. She currently works as a freelance writer and public relations/marketing specialist.