Page 3 of 7
A reporter asks whether the project will relocate more businesses than it creates.
"We've been shuffling [businesses] all around Kansas City, from Westport to downtown, from the east to west," Gates responds. "It don't make no difference. If they shuffled out of this area, they can shuffle back."
A man accustomed to being the boss, Gates tends to cut off people before they've finished speaking. A television reporter mentions that Gates owns a restaurant at 12th and Brooklyn, which is within the boundaries of the Black Heritage District.
"You have a restaurant in the area that would benefit," the reporter says. "Have you heard any criticism that — "
"Why should I have criticism?" Gates asks.
"Because your restaurant would benefit. Has anyone said — "
"Well, I've got six restaurants all over Kansas City. Certainly, that's one that's in the area. We have tried to labor there for the last 40-some odd years, so that we might have a business in the area. I certainly did not run from the area."
Funkhouser chimes in. "You haven't left yet," he says. "You stuck it out."
"And I'm one of the few that built in the area, too," Gates says.
"That's right," Councilwoman Melba Curls says. "Paved the way."
"Are there any more questions?" Gates asks.
It sounds like a dare.
For decades, Gates has believed that integration hurt black business.
In 1970, around the time he sold a nightclub and restaurant at 31st Street and Indiana, Gates told a Kansas City Star reporter that he didn't have it any easier than his father, George, who put the family on its present path when he bought the Ol' Kentuck Bar-B-Q at 19th and Vine in 1946.
A "soul brother," Gates said, using the lingo of the times, could expect no business from whites, especially after the 1968 riots. "And a large share of the black customers won't buy from him, either, because he usually can't buy in large enough quantities to be competitive, and he usually can't afford well lighted modern buildings with modern fixtures and conveniences." It was as if Gates had a crystal ball and could see chains such as Famous Dave's Legendary Pit Bar-B-Que opening in downtown's new Power & Light District.
George Gates had been a postal worker and a railroad waiter before buying the place at 19th and Vine. The pitman, Arthur Pinkard, had learned from the legendary Henry Perry. The business functioned more or less as a speakeasy until Arzelia Gates, Ollie's Bible-quoting mother, prevailed upon her husband to make it more of a restaurant.
After graduating from Lincoln High School, Ollie Gates went to the University of Maryland-Eastern Shore on a football scholarship. He transferred to Lincoln University in Jefferson City when his father agreed to help him buy a car. Ollie drove home on weekends to work at Gates Ol' Kentuck Bar-B-Q, which moved to 24th and Brooklyn in 1951.
A ROTC student, Gates served in the Army for two years. He returned to Kansas City with a wife, Maureen, and three children in 1956. (Two more were born later.) He began work on a new store, to be called Gates & Son Bar-B-Q, at 12th and Brooklyn.
In interviews, Gates does not describe his father with much warmth. He told the Star in 2000 that his mother was raised properly, but his father "was barely raised up at all." In 1983, Gates told a business publication that he built the 12th and Brooklyn store only to be "exorcised" by his father. George Gates apparently felt that the kitchen wasn't big enough for the both of them.