Rural Missouri - June 2018 - 26

ROOT BEER RUNS IN THE

A secret recipe that's impacted three generations

family

Above: What started as a dream for Gary and Connie Keck has grown to a family tradition for Troy Smith and Patrick Smith with 40 shows and events annually. Bottom: The brew comes in a variety of bottles.

by Savanna Kaiser | info@ruralmissouri.coop
t's another hot afternoon at your local fair. You're sunburned and thirsty,
desperate for a moment's refreshment. Step back in time and up to the bar.
Keck's Longhorn Root Beer welcomes you with kegs full of their delicious
homemade brew. Take a long, cold sip and rest in the shade of their saloon
on wheels. You'll inevitably feel like a kid again, pretending you're a ranch
hand in the Wild West.
The Odessa-based Keck family has been serving Keck's
Longhorn Root Beer since 1994. Gary Keck was tired of
punching the clock at Food Barn in Kansas City and wanted
to do something different with his life. When his union job
closed down, the doors finally opened. For years, Gary had
Odessa
dreamed of running his own business. Retirement was the furthest thing from his mind.
"It all started when he met a local lady at a Civil War reenactment," says Troy Smith, Gary's stepson. "She was selling root
beer and he landed a job driving her truck and helping her at
shows."
The taste of root beer only whet Gary's appetite to be selfemployed and before long he decided to step out on his own and give it
a try. He and his wife, Connie, experimented with several recipes until they
settled on a favorite. "The recipe we brew today is that same recipe they used
when we first opened," says Troy. "It's never changed."
Gary and Connie booked a handful of shows that first summer and took off
on an adventure across the state, selling their homemade brew at local fairs
and special events. The company's western theme comes from Gary and Connie's shared love of horses and backgrounds growing up on farms, according to
Troy. Each of the Keck's root beer stands starts out as a stock trailer before it's
decorated in the style that the couple originated with their tack collection.
"They even went as far as Houston, Texas one year," Troy adds. "It was a
weeklong event and they took their motor home and camped, vacationing in
Mexico when they weren't selling root beer."
Just like any new business, Keck's had its fair share of growing pains. But
every year brought new improvements and the determined couple did not give
up. "Where else could we work that we could be entertained by Charlie Daniels
and Three Dog Night, Kellie Pickler or Quad City DJs? Where else would you
work and watch the excitement of the National Chuckwagon Race Finals from
high on the Arkansas bluffs of the most beautiful ranch in the country or the
hair-raising excitement of a rattlesnake derby with up close and personal contact with rattlesnakes over 6 feet long?" Connie described on their website.
Demand for their root beer continued to rise and soon the Kecks had to
expand to two trailers and call in help from family and friends.
"My mom and Gary started out with one trailer and a dream," Troy says with
a smile. "We have four trailers now. We often double up on weekends, sometimes we even triple-up."
In 2008, Gary was diagnosed with colon cancer. When he passed away in
December, Connie kept the business and her husband's dream alive, travelling
to shows across the Midwest selling their famous brew. When Connie passed
away in 2017, the torch was passed to the next generation. Today, her sons,
Troy and Patrick, carry on their family's legacy.
"We're now in our 25th year and it's still a family affair," says Troy, a West

I

26

RURAL MISSOURI | JUNE 2018

Central Electric Cooperative member. "My son, Dalton, helps me a lot and Pat's
kids are involved as well."
Keck's attends around 40 shows a year, starting in January with indoor
events like World of Wheels at Bartle Hall in Kansas City. Once warm weather
hits, they're working almost every weekend at some fair in Missouri, Nebraska, Kansas, Arkansas or Oklahoma until mid-October. The nearly 10-month
schedule is a big commitment for the brothers who also have day jobs - Troy
as a postal worker and Pat in IT.
"Mount Vernon's Apple Butter Making Days is probably our biggest show,"
Troy says. "We also do Santa-Cali-Gon in Independence, which is another
large festival in the Midwest."
While the company headquarters are in Odessa, Keck's doesn't have
an official storefront. Their sweet, caffeine-free inventory simply rides
along with them wherever they go. The family is known all around the
state for their famous ice-cold soft drink.
"We don't do diet, sarsaparilla, or cream soda," says Troy. "Our
special root beer is the only thing we sell. It comes in everything
from plastic cups to glass bottles and flasks." Many of their customers will bring back their bottles for refills at later events.
Root beer simply never goes out of style. The sweet liquid has
been savored across the world for centuries. It made a strong impression in
early Colonial America; however, what we're familiar with today may be very
different than what our forefathers enjoyed. There's no original recipe. Countless combinations have created the brews we know and
love. Allspice, ginger root, hops, wild cherry bark, coriander seed and dandelion root are just a few of the ingredients that contribute to the famous
flavor.
"There's a thousand different
ways to make root beer," says Troy.
While the Keck's special recipe is
theirs for safekeeping, anyone with
a sweet tooth can enjoy the results
of their labor. As the second and
third generations carry on Gary
and Connie Keck's vision, their
root beer serves as a reminder
that hard work also can be
rewarding.
"We're going to keep doing
what we've always done," says
Troy. "And it's all because of
their recipe and a dream."
For more information about
Keck's Longhorn Root Beer,
visit www.kecksrootbeer.com
or find them on Facebook.
Kaiser is a freelance writer
from Hartville.


http://www.kecksrootbeer.com

Table of Contents for the Digital Edition of Rural Missouri - June 2018

Contents
Rural Missouri - June 2018 - Intro
Rural Missouri - June 2018 - Cover1
Rural Missouri - June 2018 - Cover2
Rural Missouri - June 2018 - Contents
Rural Missouri - June 2018 - 4
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