"You know it's kinda like the movie, 'We Bought a Zoo," RD Johnson, High Noon Saloon and Brewery co-owner said. "Well we bought a brewery, we knew as much as the guy in that movie."
RD, which stands for Ralph Douglas, and Anna Johnson have been the owners and operators of the High Noon Saloon and Brewery. They retired from the military at Fort Leavenworth and decided to go into business owning a brewery. He decided once we got out of the military he was going to take a course at a brewing school in Chicago to improve his skills. The two spent a lot of time in Germany while in the military and really fell in love with the beer they had there.
The restaurant was originally owned by Cindy Schulenberg, who now owns TenPenny, in 1991. They installed the brewery in late 1995, after RD retired from the military. They bought the restaurant in 1998 and added the words, "& Brewery" to "High Noon Saloon."
"When we came back to the United States, you just have the same old domestic beers," RD said. "So we decided to do some home brewing and got pretty good at it."
Anna is the original brewer of the project and RD said that's why the beer 'Annie's Amber Ale' is named after her. The couple have earned much respect after earning national awards over the years for their beers. They competed against breweries both large and small. Anna said it's exciting to get beat out for a gold medal by only 2 points by the likes of Sam Adams.
"This brewery was a sizable investment in this town and has made Leavenworth a well known destination location for craft beer lovers," Anna said.
RD said that he and his wife both love beer and she has a great palate for beer. He said the reason why their beer tastes so good is that they use 100-percent barley which is the highest quality you can get in the United States, their hops are from the Northwest part of Germany, and Leavenworth has great water for brewing. He found out by accident that the town of Leavenworth was highly populated with Germans in the 1800s because the town was robust and was a great agricultural area for making beer.
The beer business became quite successful for the couple and a few years after opening they saw an opportunity to distribute their beer in the marketplace. He said they saw opportunity to do canned beers instead of bottled. Annie's Amber Ale is currently going through the process of distributing their beer in cans and at the moment are distributing to North Kansas City, Philadelphia, Boston and New Mexico. He said they do a little bit of distribution in Kansas but not too much.
Page 2 of 2 - "We were the first microbrewery in the state of Kansas to have cans," RD said. "We have had our challenges with cans, but we have some nice orders in right now that we are working on, so it's a work in progress." The couple is excited about their upcoming contract with the T-Bones baseball team at the Legends. They will be serving their three types of beer at the stadium and will be creating a fourth beer for them called the "T-Bones Blonde Ale" which will be their own brew.
"We are thrilled, the T-Bones operation is just a great bunch of people," RD said. "They like different things that are affordable and a great quality."
They owned the brewery, but never had plans of owning a restaurant. They were wanting to stay clear of the restaurant business and just take on the brewery side.
"We never wanted to get into the restaurant business, it just kinda happened," RD said. "It's probably the hardest thing we've ever done and it's hard to this day."
Over the years, RD and Anna have improved and changed the menu and are in the midst of changing the menu again. She said they want to keep the menu active and new for the customers. She is proud of the quality of their food right now. RD said that many items are made with their own Annie's Amber Ale such as the ribs, pulled pork, chili and queso dip. They take pride that their food is all homemade. RD believes they have the best steaks in Kansas City. They use a steak called a sterling silver beef that is raised in Kansas.
"You can get a steak here for around $10," RD said. "The same steak is served at the Hereford House for $25, so just stay here and have a steak."
High Noon Saloon & Brewery may be a successful small business now, but back when the economy was hit hard they had their difficulties.
"I think survival was the biggest challenge," Anna said. "The economy hit everyone, our sales went down with everyone else's, but you have to be flexible and try to stay ahead of it."
The restaurant and brewery today is more successful than ever, they said. The only change they would like to truly see is in their beer distributors. RD said he was grateful for the distributors they have but would like to see a change in which they can distribute their product to more places.
"We sure do wish that we could self-distribute like other microbreweries and states are able to do," RD said. "If I could take my beer to a local liquor store or restaurant our business would really blossom."