"When people come here, they really want barbecue but they don't know where to go," Schemel says. "And when you go somewhere, you don't just want to try one thing. You want to try everything. That's why you'll get on the bus."
He thought he'd retired from the tour business when he moved to Kansas City in 2002. His late father, Donald, operated Schemel Marine Transit in Chicago for years, after leaving the concrete industry when he purchased a decommissioned city fireboat at an auction. The success of his Chicago Fire Boat led to the Islander, a party craft with a tropical theme. Donald Schemel went on to own a fleet of barges, water taxis and a tugboat.
On the Chicago River, Donald Schemel showed people a different side of the city. And his son says he can help show people a new way to experience barbecue with a tour that travels to barbecue joints on both sides of the state line.
"I fell in love with barbecue when I moved here," Schemel says. "And I can't believe that nobody has ever done this. Food is the recess for grown-ups."
Schemel and his wife, Bethanie, bought a shuttle bus that they found on Craigslist in November, five days after their first son was born. Schemel replaced the power-steering hose, approached a few area barbecue institutions and began training tour guides. His older sister, Alicia Schemel-Chodorow, who wrote speeches for their dad's tours, has penned scripts for the barbecue venture.
At each stop, diners will be served at least one meat, sides and water (with other drinks available for purchase). A tour guide will explain the significance of a given barbecue restaurant, and then the participants will have a few minutes to explore and take pictures. "We'll talk about the history and how a place got started," Schemel says. "Then we'll talk about what we're eating, how they cook it, the sauces, the wood. It's about the whole experience."
For a $65 ticket (available at kcbarbecuetours.com), the approximately four-hour tour gives passengers not only several plates of food but also a dose of Kansas City history as tour guides point out such landmarks as Union Station and the World War I Memorial along the route. "We're not just going to talk about barbecue," Schemel says. "You'll get a little sightseeing, too.
The bus rolls out for a dry run this weekend before its maiden voyage Friday, February 8. The tours continue at 11 a.m. every Friday and Saturday; Schemel plans to expand to weekdays this summer. And while you'll always find him behind the wheel, this is one captain who prefers to let Kansas City's pit masters speak for themselves.
"I was a deckhand - I didn't ever talk," Schemel says, recalling his Chicago apprenticeship. "And since I own the company, I don't have