Two Kansas City entrepreneurs hope to amplify the voices of local change makers by getting them behind the microphone with a drink in their hand.
The Behind the Bar with Ashley and Hailee podcast sees co-hosts and friends Ashley Kendrick and Hailee Bland Walsh welcome their fellow Kansas City entrepreneurs into Kendrick’s basement for a cocktail and casual conversation.
“These are people who are working 24/7/365 — you just don’t stop when you’re an entrepreneur — but they do it because they ultimately care about people and care about what they’re doing,” said Bland Walsh, founder and owner of City Gym and co-founder of Fit Truk. “I love this for that opportunity to show their heart.”
Kendrick, a Realtor by day, said she decided to mix her passion for craft cocktails into the podcast because the drinks allow both the guests and hosts to feel more relaxed and vulnerable.
“Part of the fuel for the show was to ask questions that maybe make them a little uncomfortable, and to bring out another side of these people who are doing really cool work in Kansas City,” Kendrick said. “Getting to make them a drink, and find their ‘why,’ and get to their core — that’s awesome stuff.”
Behind the Bar also provides its entrepreneurial guests with an opportunity to reveal their most authentic selves to customers and clients in a unique setting, Bland Walsh said.
“I love the idea that we’re giving these folks a platform to share with their customers and client base who they are and why they do what they do, because entrepreneurship — at its core when it’s done right — is really an act of service,” Bland Walsh said. “So, getting to know who these human beings are at their heart goes a long way.”
Energy in alignment
Kendrick initially planned to host the podcast on her own, she said, inviting her close friend Bland Walsh to be the guest for the debut episode in March.
However, once the duo recorded that first episode, Kendrick quickly realized she needed Bland Walsh on board as a co-host, she said.
“We had a deep friendship before the show started, so I knew she would give me the energy platform I wanted to feel competent,” Kendrick said. “Then as we started rolling, it was just more fun with her in it, quite frankly.”
Despite her busy schedule, Bland Walsh jumped in without hesitation, she said, because of her trust in and respect for her friend.
“I didn’t even know what the original interview was going to be,” Bland Walsh recalled. “Ashley is just one of a handful of human beings who, when she asks me if I want to do something, I just say yes. It could be a bike ride, a trip to Mars, a podcast, a business — the answer is yes.”
They each still have to focus on their work and family lives, so they release about two episodes every month and limit the recording process to about two to three hours per episode.
“It’s not even a hard ‘give’ anymore,” Kendrick said. “I get to do this with my time. That’s the way I’m looking at it, so I’m always going to prioritize it.”
Bland Walsh echoed those sentiments, noting that she thinks in terms of “alignment” rather than balance, meaning that she devotes more of her time and energy to people and things she loves the most.
“I’m going to give as much energy to a project as is warranted,” Bland Walsh said. “This project in particular has taken on some momentum. … As it’s been picking up momentum, I’ve been putting more energy into it. I think that really works for us. As it naturally develops, we’re giving a little bit more to it.”
Authenticity with intention
Beyond uplifting entrepreneurs in Kansas City, Kendrick and Bland Walsh hope the podcast will offer much-needed representation for people in the LGBTQIA+ community, especially queer youth.
“One of the reasons that I’m so visible is because, as a queer kid who grew up in Kansas, I didn’t know any gay adults,” Bland Walsh said. “The first openly lesbian or gay person I knew was Ellen [DeGeneres] on the cover of People magazine. I didn’t have any representation. I didn’t have anyone to aspire to be who was a similar identity to me. I didn’t even have a language for what I felt. I just knew I was different.”
“I just want to demonstrate healthy, happy, successful queer people, because I think that we can become little beacons of light for them,” she continued.
Kendrick pointed out how many queer entrepreneurs wrestle with a fear of living authentically, wondering if they have to choose between being themselves and succeeding in business.
“You do almost feel like, ‘Do I have to hide this about myself?’” Kendrick shared. “We went through all these stages, so now it’s just an honor to be able to live authentically and be the people who we truly are — and to know that there are young people who can look at us and go, ‘I don’t have to do 10 years of my life where I’m afraid to say the word partner, or wife, or girlfriend.’”
In part because of their own identities, the duo is very intentional about choosing guests with a broad range of lived experiences, according to Bland Walsh.
“We are very serious about amplifying the voices of folks who are way-makers and change makers, specifically those people’s voices who might not be the most amplified,” Bland Walsh said.
“I want these people’s voices and stories to be heard,” Kendrick added. “We’re willing to meet people at the table and be vulnerable right back with them. We want this to be something that draws people to Kansas City in a lot of ways.”
Though Behind the Bar is just getting started, Bland Walsh joked that the duo is ready for a Netflix series, calling herself and Kendrick the “Queer Eye of entrepreneurship.”
Meanwhile, Kendrick expressed how the podcast has become so much more than she ever expected when she first had the idea.
“I’m following my heart on this one,” Kendrick said. “It came into our lives, and I just feel like this is something that we were supposed to do.”