Community

Out to Lunch with Visit KC’s Ronnie Burt

The Visit KC chief waxes poetic about the city’s past, present and impossibly bright future.

Story by Kimberly Stern

Who: Ronnie Burt, President and CEO, Visit KC

Where: Pig & Finch, Park Place, Leawood, Kan.

What: Cast Iron Idaho Trout with Brown Butter Cream

Dessert: Executive Chef John C. Smith’s from-scratch buttermilk pie. (We requested two extra forks to share the treat.)

One thing to know about Visit KC President and CEO Ronnie Burt: He carries two phones. But if you’re sharing a meal, Burt will give you his undivided attention, although you may be uncomfortable thinking about the emails, voicemails and texts piling up on his blinking mobile devices.

That’s how Burt rolls. He’s in the moment, experiencing everything and everyone around him.

When KC Magazine Executive Editor Katie Van Luchene and I invited Burt for our inaugural Out to Lunch feature, we didn’t volley a string of emails back and forth to arrive at a mutually agreeable date.  In fact, we didn’t exchange more than one. And it’s not because Burt has holes in his calendar waiting to be filled—quite the opposite. Burt scooted from a jam-packed morning, including an 11 a.m. downtown press conference opening the Big 12 Men’s Basketball Tournament, to meet us on March 11 in Leawood’s Park Place at 12:45 p.m.

“Drive time was about 20 minutes,” Burt remarked as he slid into a corner booth at Pig and Finch, greeting us with a firm handshake and the beginning of 90 minutes of excellent eye contact, a genuine enthusiasm for the city he sells and a call-to-action for Kansas City and Johnson County residents.

“Glad to be here with you.”

An industry veteran with nearly 25 years of hospitality and tourism experience, Burt—originally from Atlantic City, New Jersey— joined Visit KC in June 2014. He left Washington D.C. and Destination DC to come to Kansas City, a place he knew from living here as a fourth grader and spending subsequent summers.

“Kansas City is a great city with priceless assets,” Burt said, “such as friendly, happy people, the region itself and endless creative resources.”

One phrase Burt encourages Kansas Citians to strike from conversation: The country’s best-kept secret.

“With all of the national media attention we garner, for food, attractions, sports, business and technology, we’re way, way beyond that,” he emphasized, tucking into Pig and Finch’s Idaho trout.

Burt is known for making bold moves, including taking Kansas City Restaurant Week to its next level.

“I was asked during interviews for this job how I would drive new demand,” Burt recalled.  “So in addition to focusing on conventions, I added two new components to KC Restaurant Week—shopping and hotels. This year’s was the best-attended, raised the most money for the three charities and had record participation, with more than 160 restaurants.”

In an effort to drive economic impact for KC tourism, Burt has assembled a powerhouse committee of six CEOs representing the hospitality industry with the goal of engagement.

Burt sells energy—the forward momentum of a city, its people and its resources. He wants to ignite the front lines—the people who touch guests coming into town for a convention, meeting, weekend or vacation.

“Get out and experience your city,” he said. Burt repeated this mantra throughout the meal, even imploring Pig and Finch Executive Chef John C. Smith to do the same when he stepped from the kitchen to say hello and deliver a slice of buttermilk pie.

As Burt gathered his phones in preparation for the short drive to the Visit KC office, he offered one last sales pitch.

“This is KC,” he said, “We need to keep thinking out of the box, to continue elevating this city. Just watch.”

Main Course: Q&A with Ronnie Burt

• Who would you take to lunch and where? “I would invite Don Hall to Pot Pie in Westport. Love that I would be eating with an iconic local booster in a place that serves local food in an environment where casual conversation is a natural.”

What is your typical weekend? “I try not to plan anything, because things invariably come up. I work out at OneLife Fitness, like to go to Harry’s Country Club in the River Market for the chorizo-encrusted chicken and maybe catch a movie at the Alamo Drafthouse in Power and Light.”

Last amazing thing you did in KC? “Besides the Big 12 Tournament … the Midnight Underground Circus. Incredible energy in an unusual venue.”

What would be your hashtag for Kansas City? #justwatch

For more information on VisitKC, go to visitkc.com. For more information on Pig & Finch, visit 801restaurantgroup.com.