Cleared for landing... and ribs. This Paola BBQ joint is flying high.

KMBZ Series: Where There's Smoke...

E.J. Becker
July 26, 2018 - 6:45 am

We B Smokin - Courtesy John McCullagh


Our first installment of a new KMBZ series Where There's Smoke, featuring real stories behind Kansas City Barbeque, takes a short flight to Paola, Kansas.

Every joint has a smell. A vibe. Something that makes it stand out in a town full of BBQ joints. Maybe it's the aroma or the dry rub. Sometimes it's the location. And sometimes, it's how you get there.


"I wouldn't even come and look at the place for two years, because I knew where it was at, and I thought, no, this isn't going to work," said Terry Bright, who opened We B Smokin' in the terminal building at Miami County Airport in 2001.

"I was told by a pilot one day that if we put out good food, that one day, we'd be packed and there wouldn't be a car in the parking lot," Terry said. "Everybody flies in."

Gloria, Terry's wife, runs the dining room while Terry and their son run the kitchen. 

"When I first came out here and looked at the place, I though, this is a tough nut to crack," Gloria said.


Gloria was an accountant. Terry had had a long, successful career in the restaurant and catering business. After lots of success in competition BBQ, they decided to go for it and open their own joint. 

They had plenty of obstacles working against them, going into business in an area full of barbeque restaurants, in an airport in 2001, when the September 11th attack left hundreds of airports looking like ghost towns.

They overcame the struggles of that first year, and within a few years, they were flying high. They got a lot of help from an online source that informs recreational pilots about good places to eat at airports.

"There's a website out there called Hundred Dollar Hamburger," Terry said. "There's like 14,000 restaurants -- we're in the top 10 of destination restaurants."

The term Hundred Dollar Hamburger refers to the price of the food and the flight to get there. A lot of pilots go to places like We B Smokin' as an excuse to take a flight. People have flown to the Brights' joint from as far away as California.

Terry and Gloria's best-known customer is one of the most famous people on earth, former president Barack Obama, who visited in 2011. 

"They kept telling us he wasn't coming in," Terry said. "He told (former Kansas governor) Kathleen Sebelius when they were getting into the car to leave to go do the speech, because he saw the kids in the window, he said, when we get back, we're going in."

The president loved the name, We B Smokin'.

"He's a super, super nice guy," Gloria remembers.

Terry says he's not taking down the photos of the president's visit, even though he still gets grief from some of his conservative customers.

We B Smokin' is a family affair. In addition to their kids, as many as six granddaughters may be serving BBQ or seating customers.

Terry is no stranger to family in the business, having worked in the kitchen for Gloria's father at Sidney's. He says that his time there and at Peter's Drive-In shaped much of the menu they serve up at We B Smokin'. 

The name that the former president liked so much, We B Smokin', came from Terry and Gloria's old competition barbeque team that started their enterprise.



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