The owners of Leawood’s Red Door Woodfired Grill consider it a laboratory of sorts.

In the four years since the restaurant opened in Camelot Court, the owners have taken feedback from customers and fine-tuned the concept, rolling out changes there and at their new Brookside restaurant, which opened in late December at 6324 Brookside Plaza.

Brookside Opening

They’ve added round tables so groups can more easily converse. They use theater lighting (spotlighting the tables and food) for a more intimate atmosphere. The menu now includes comfort food such as fried chicken and meatloaf, as well as Chilean sea bass and Black Angus Kansas City strip steak.

The partners behind Red Door bring decades of experience in restaurant management.

Founder and partner Gary Zancanelli joined Harman Management after college, spending 13 years with the company. It had multiple Kentucky Fried Chicken locations, and Zancanelli eventually purchased five Colorado locations of his own, growing his franchise to 70 KFC and Taco Bell restaurants, including some in the Kansas City area. He sold his company to KBP Foods in Overland Park in April 2011.

His partner, Mark Kirke, graduated from Creighton University in Omaha and then earned a degree from the Scottsdale Culinary Institute before joining Houston’s Restaurant Group. In 1998, he moved to Kansas City to convert the Fairway Houston’s into Fairway Grill. He later was operating partner for P.F. Chang’s on the Country Club Plaza and then was promoted to regional vice president for the 57 restaurants in the Northeast division.

A mutual friend introduced them. They not only shared careers in the restaurant business, they both grew up playing and watching baseball, and both were involved with their children’s baseball teams.

“We were friends first, and we wanted to make sure we were aligned so the business partnership would work long-term,” Kirke said.

Some new customers consider Red Door Woodfired Grill so polished, they ask where the “chain” is based.

“We really wanted to build a brand for Kansas City. We feel we have an upscale neighborhood joint,” Zancanelli said. “That’s how we are branding it — food we are serious about but affordable enough, a place they can feel comfortable in and have fun. We just don’t turn tables as fast. Our guests hang out at our place for a long time.”

Woodfired salmon was a pretty popular dish at the Leawood location. But the owners noticed how one of their regulars, Dave Broderick, topped it with his homemade seasoning. Now the restaurant uses the seasoning for Broderick’s Black Magic Salmon, and the dish is one of their most popular entrees at both locations.

Gary’s father, Gary Zancanelli Sr., picks meatloaf for his go-to comfort dish. So they created Big Gary’s Meatloaf with a creamy mushroom-peppercorn sauce, also a top order at both restaurants. Julie’s Light & Fit Chicken (named after Gary’s wife, Julie) comes with grilled herb-marinated chicken.

Red Door uses meats from McGonigle’s Market, bread from Bagel Works Bread Co. in Kansas City, Kan., and Pellet Envy barbecue sauce from Eat Barbecue in Leawood.

To keep customers coming back “three, four, five times a week,” they also offer daily specials at both locations:

▪ Mondays: The Classic Burger is $5 all day.

▪ Thursdays: Fried chicken served all day (jalapeño-dipped or not). They marinate the chicken for four days, then it is hand-breaded and pressure fried.

▪ Sundays: Half-price bottles of wine — all of its wines, all day — and prime rib all day, 16-ounces, slow roasted then soaked in a whiskey marinade for seven minutes before it is seared on the wood-fired grill. The prime rib is served on toasted sourdough bread with Alabama-style white barbecue sauce or horseradish.

▪ Happy hour specials: 4 to 7 p.m. Monday through Friday, and 10 p.m. to close Friday and Saturday, in the dining room and bar.

The Brookside restaurant has an industrial decor and open kitchen. They commissioned area artist William Rose to paint a scene from the Leawood restaurant with Gary serving drinks, Julie in conversation at a table, and Colonel Sanders (in a nod to Gary’s KFC background) at one of the booths. A few staff members and regulars also made the cut.

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