The State of Restaurants in Kansas City: Pirate’s Bone Burgers

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The restaurant industry has been hit especially hard throughout 2020. Many restaurants cannot re-open due to COVID-19 precautions, and many patrons do not go to those that are open in an effort to reduce risk in the community. Since the first lockdown in March, the food service industry has lost $165 billion in revenue and is likely to end the year having lost $240 billion. Additionally, customer spending in restaurants has been down 34 percent so far this year. 

Kansas City has experienced the effects of these losses as countless, especially local, restaurants continue to shut down because of the insurmountable disruptions COVID-19 imposed on the industry. This article is the third in a series exploring the effect of COVID-19 losses on individual restaurants in Kansas City. 

Pirate’s Bone Burgers

Pirate’s Bone Burgers took Kansas City by storm when they opened in September of 2019. As the first fully plant-based diner in a veritable cow town, opening the vegan burger restaurant was definitely a risk. However, Pirate’s Bone soon became a staple for many Kansas Citians — even being nominated in four different categories, including Best Burger, in The Pitch’s “Best of Kansas City” awards

Even still, keeping such a young business alive during COVID-19 has proved difficult and at some times, disheartening. Zaid Consuegra, the chef and co-owner at Pirate’s Bone Burgers spoke to The Hilltop Monitor about the journey he has taken to keep his restaurant and its mission – to bring more plants to more people– alive. 

Zaid Consuegra at the order window.
Photo by Savannah Hawley

“Honestly it’s been pretty hard. We have not… I don’t think that we’ve gotten a sense of direction on how to go about things well. So [restaurant owners are] all going blindly and making the rules as we see fit at each restaurant. We’ve gotten here because of luck to be honest… We’ve crossed our one year anniversary [on] Sept. 16, so it was very close for us to shut down completely. We’re here just making rules as we go. We’re trying to be safe and responsible that way we don’t just get shut down,” Consuegra said.  “We have changed our menu, we have changed the way we do things: so price points, actual items. We don’t have indoor seating right now, we only have outdoor seating.”

The changes in menu items, seating and opening hours are all efforts Consuegra has felt necessary to make in order to keep his business running while maintaining the health of himself and his employees. The pandemic, Consuegra said, changed their main product from $4 sliders to burgers that range in price from $9 to $14. Even though businesses are open and people have been returning to restaurants, Consuegra worries that Kansas City is still hurting. 

“[Before COVID-19] we had so many people coming in and out all day, seven days a week – now we’re only open three days a week, so it’s not that many. As much as people are in and out, the Crossroads has not been the same ever since the pandemic started. We do see people on Friday nights and Saturday nights, but it’s maybe a fourth of what it used to be,” Consuegra said.

Pirate’s Bone is currently only seating outside, as are many Kansas City restaurants. But with the winter cold fast approaching, small restaurants are facing even more complications with not having a place to seat customers inside while still adhering to COVID-19 restrictions

“We’re going to try to keep our doors closed [during the winter] but we might be pushed to open back up if it gets really bad [financially]. It’s going to be a scary time to be honest. I don’t want to think about it just yet but we are taking steps to kind of have an idea on how this is going to go,” Consuegra said. “It’s all going to depend on how bad the situation is going to get in the Midwest – we’re monitoring the situation, so that’s going to be pretty scary. Honestly I hate to say this but this is the first time that, even six months in, I’m still unsure on how to handle this in the best way possible.”

Keeping himself, his employees and his customers safe has changed the restaurant for the foreseeable future. Even though he took these measures for everyone’s safety during COVID-19, Consuegra believes there should have been better guidance from national and local officials alike. In closing earlier than necessary back in March, Consuegra had to pay over $10,000 in bills while the business was getting virtually no income. 

“It’s not just me, I have other people to think about and then myself. I honestly wish we had more intake from the government – down from the national government to our local government officials – on how this was going to go. I wish they would have started that early on, because I don’t think we would have closed if we had enough information. I think we would have kept open, but the way that we’re doing it now. That way we wouldn’t have lost so much money by closing down and reopening back up,” Consuegra said. “Also with the close, I lost more than half of my staff – and that’s why we only open on weekends – so I think we would have done it a lot differently if we had more information on this. And that’s taken a toll on me for sure, financially, physically and mentally, emotionally… If I cannot grow mentally with what’s happening and adapt to it then there would be no Pirate’s Bone Burgers.”

Part of that overall strain has been trying to keep the business exciting even while burnout is high among restaurateurs. 

“I’m doing it all. Trying to come up with new items, which is already hard enough. I don’t think people realize what it takes to come up with new food… We need to make something that’s good for 100, 200, 300 people and make it the same way every time and that’s the hard part,” said Consuegra. “Because before it was just so much different. You had a lot more chances to just test out things and to mess up things because you knew that there were 100 people coming the next day and you could test something out – and if it wasn’t great it just wasn’t great. Now we have to make sure it’s a burger that everyone is going to like. We can’t have negative reviews right now. There’s already a negative review over the whole world, so we can’t have a negative review over the restaurant.”

Pirate’s Bone now does a weekly or monthly special burger, so there is reliably something new to try upon every visit. They’ve also begun making their own aioli after supply ran out during COVID-19, which Consuegra is looking into bottling and selling from the restaurant. 

The herbivore fries, buffalo fries, truffle fries, original cheeseburger and beet burger at Pirate’s Bone Burgers.
Photo by Savannah Hawley.

Maybe [the aioli] helps us more with the financial things… [Running the restaurant during COVID-19] has been interesting. It’s kept us on our toes and it’s made us hustle again. But I gotta say this: as a person who has been hustling for most of my life, it’s not something you want to do at all times because you start to run on fumes every now and then. So if everybody knows what a hustle is, they know that they don’t want to do that for the rest of their lives,” said Consuegra. 

Customer support has helped Consuegra keep going through COVID-19 and the subsequent difficulties the pandemic has put on his business. 

“Community response has been great. Obviously we would like more. We have great staff, I trained them well. We could probably easily do twice as much as we’re doing right now but we’re getting by. We need the overall support of the community, the general public… I just received an email from The Pitch. We didn’t win any first place [awards] on their top Kansas City categories, but we were second place for four categories: Best Burger in Kansas City, Best Vegan, Best Vegetarian and Best Cheap Eats,” Consuegra said. “The fact that we got into best burger… that is all the burgers in Kansas City that were voted for. That’s amazing for us, so we’re thrilled and we just want to keep on doing what we’re doing. We have something that is good and we’d hate to lose it. We put our foot forward every time, every weekend we do our best and we can tell that people have noticed that we put effort into what we do.”

Like every restaurant right now, Pirate’s Bone Burgers needs the constant and determined support of patrons – loyal and new customers alike – to weather the seemingly insurmountable challenges COVID-19 has caused. The shuttering of restaurants like The Rieger and Black Sheep has served as a stark reminder that no restaurant is safe from the ever-growing list of COVID-19 caused closures. To continue the success of what is already one of the best burger places in the city, Kansas Citians must consistently buy from Pirate’s Bone Burgers and all of their other favorite restaurants. Eating outside (while wearing plenty of layers) and ordering takeout have never been more important to the culture of Kansas City.  

Pirate’s Bone Burgers is located in the Crossroads Art District and is open Friday-Sunday 12-7 p.m. Keep updated with what’s going on at the restaurant and any specials they have via their Instagram and Facebook pages.

Savannah Hawley

Savannah Hawley is the Managing Editor and Chief Copy Editor of The Hilltop Monitor. She is a senior majoring in Oxbridge: Literature & Theory and French.

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