Exterior photo of Kobe Club Burgers in Seymour, Missouri
Kobe Club Burgers is now open in Seymour. Owner Will Neal's first restaurant serves up wagyu burgers raised at his farm just two miles away. (Photo: Juliana Goodwin)

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There’s nothing ordinary about the new Kobe Club Burgers in Seymour — serving up wagyu at much lower prices.

At first glance, you might notice the “Burgers & Custard/Stone Fire Pizza” sign that looks like any small business ad. But the sign is between two stained-glass windows from the late 1800s. Inside, there are French antiques: a Parisian butcher block table from 1890, a pastry table from 1940 and part of the flooring is 150-year-old reclaimed tile from France.

There are elegant and ornate light fixtures, and a casual beach mural on the wall, too. This eclectic venue is likely the only place in the country where you can order a wagyu beef burger meal, complete with fries and drink, for $12.99. All the burgers are made from wagyu from Will Neal’s farm, two miles away.

If it’s not the only wagyu burger joint in the nation, it’s the only place where you can get wagyu at this price, Neal said.

It’s unique and a reflection of Neal, who hopes the restaurant will attract people from Springfield and surrounding counties.

“I have no restaurant experience, I am an entrepreneur,” Neal said. “If I wanted to do it, I wanted to do it at a high level to make it worth the drive for people to have one of the best burgers in the country. This is an ingredient-driven restaurant.”

The restaurant is as interesting as its owner’s past.

A stained glass window at Kobe Club Burgers in Seymour, Missouri
This stained glass window from the 1800s decorates Kobe Club Burgers in Seymour. The restaurant also has a Parisian butcher block table from 1890 and a pastry table from 1940, and part of the flooring is 150-year-old reclaimed tile from France. (Photo: Juliana Goodwin)

Owner Neal a jack of all trades

Neal grew up in Texas on a century ranch and showed cattle throughout his life. He had cousins in Nixa, so he visited the Ozarks most summers.

When it came time to go to college, he studied accounting at Baylor University.

Two years later, he left accounting and went to work for the Farm Bureau. That job took him to Europe on occasion, where he discovered a love of antiques and French and Italian tiles. In 1999, on a trip to the country of Georgia, he met his future wife, Julia. They have three children together, ages 9, 13 and 18.

Around 2002, he started remodeling houses and brought in tiles from Europe to decorate the homes and make them stand out. One day Julia asked him if he thought he could make a living just importing the tile because it was so popular, so he gave it a shot and built a thriving business. Neal says he’s done tile work for Whoopi Goldberg, Tyler Perry, the World War II Museum in New Orleans and many others.

Kobe Club Burgers owners Will and Julia Neal pose in front of a beach mural inside the restuarant
Will and Julia Neal are the owners of Kobe Club Burgers in Seymour. (Photo: Juliana Goodwin)

Fast forward to 2008. Neal visited a wagyu farm in the U.S. Neal said he wasn’t impressed by the looks of the cattle, but the farmer sent him home with a couple of wagyu steaks.

Those steaks transformed his future. A few bites in and Neal decided he wanted to raise wagyu.

“I thought wagyu beef would be the future of the beef industry,” he said.

In 2021, it was the fastest-growing beef breed in America, according to the American Wagyu Association.

Wild about wagyu

Wagyu is any of four strains of a breed of black or red Japanese cattle prized for its marbling. The marbling produces tender beef with an incredibly buttery flavor. Wagyu contains a higher percentage of omega-3 and omega-6 fatty acids than typical beef, according to the association. The marbling and richness mean people fill up faster, too.

The Neals own a fullblood wagyu ranch and have bred most of their cattle over the years, importing semen and selling some, too. He has 200 head and says he raises Japanese, not American, wagyu.

American wagyu is Japanese wagyu that has been crossbred with angus. This is increasingly popular as Japanese wagyu is extremely expensive.

Customers line up to order their food at Kobe Club Burgers in Seymour
Kobe Club Burgers, in Seymour, opened its doors to big crowds Aug. 19, 2023. (Photo: Juliana Goodwin)

Steaks sold well, but there was no market for ground beef

In November and December  2017, once his herd was large enough, Neal started advertising his prized steaks on SiriusXM for $100 a pound. He hired Buck Taylor, an actor from the popular TV show “Yellowstone,” to shoot a commercial for his ranch, too.

The steaks sold all over the country.

“It showed me people wanted quality meat,” Neal said.

But there wasn’t a market for the ground beef.

In a typical animal, he ends up with 80 pounds of prime steak, 100-120 pounds of roast and similar cuts, and 300 or more pounds of burger.

The sign for Kobe Club Burgers in Seymour, Missouri
This sign directs customers to Kobe Club Burgers in Seymour. Along with wagyu burgers, the new restaurant serves pizza and frozen custard. (Photo: Juliana Goodwin)

“Even though we were making money off the steaks, we did not have a home for the burger,” Neal said. “I tried reaching out to grocery stores and food service companies and no one wanted to handle it. Finally, I decided to open a burger shop, otherwise the business would be stymied.”

When the pandemic hit, he made another decision: build his own USDA processing plant in Seymour. During the pandemic, many farmers couldn’t get their meat processed, so he built his own — but it had to be USDA for him to sell nationwide, which is where the market is for his steaks. He’s had wagyu farmers from five states bring him their meat.

Missouri is the nation’s third-largest beef producer, behind Oklahoma and Texas.

Learning as they go

Neal has no previous restaurant experience.

To get started, he traveled to great burger spots in Texas and dissected everything from the thickness of the tomato to the sauce. A custom sauce is a must, and they created their own. They also serve ¼-pound patties.

Great fries are essential. All famous burger places also have good fries, Neal said. So, he decided on hand-cut fries made in-house.

Ice cream was another addition. Since all three of his kids love Andy’s Frozen Custard, he added a custard machine, joking it will save him money in the long run.

A wagyu beef burger at Kobe Club Burgers in Seymour
Kobe Club Burgers in Seymour serves up 1/4-pound patties and hand-cut fries made in-house. (Photo: Juliana Goodwin)

And the pizza. Neal loves Italy, so he put in a traditional Italian-style pizza oven. They make their own dough with flour imported from Italy and use San Marzano tomatoes. Without restaurant experience, he hired U.S. Foods and Performance Foodservice, which brought in professional chefs to train them.

His wife Julia said she thought her husband’s idea for a restaurant to sell their beef was wonderful and it rounded out with the pizza and custard. They work together at the restaurant and plant.

“Her strengths are my weaknesses,” Will said.

Julia chimed in “And vice versa,” so they make a great team.

Customers are already flocking to Seymour

Kobe Club opened Aug. 19 and there was a line to the door most of the day. The opening had its snafus. The computer system went down, so they had to go to hand tickets. On Aug. 22, the air-conditioning was out, but customers still came and waited in the heat for their burgers.

Davin Lawson lives in Rogersville and brought his wife and two kids.

“The burgers are amazing,” he said between bites.

“And the fries,” chimed in daughter Harper Lawson.

The Lawsons were visiting their grandparents, who were also at the table. Grandpa Gilbert Lawson chuckled and said he’d been there for lunch that day and was back for the frozen custard that night — also delicious.

A family sits at a table inside Kobe Club Burgers in Seymour, eating their meal
Customers, like the Lawson family, are already flocking to Kobe Club Burgers in Seymour. (Photo: Juliana Goodwin)

Planning for future growth

The restaurant is named Kobe Club because Neal thought it was catchy, but the burgers are wagyu. Kobe is a type of wagyu — one of the most prized wagyu — from a specific region and the Tajima strain of cattle. It’s incredibly expensive and in Japan, there are tight regulations.

People told Neal to open in a larger city, but he lives near the restaurant and wanted to be heavily involved in the business. His processing plant is also nearby.

If this succeeds, he’d like to franchise. While he currently supplies all the beef, that may change.

“If I want to grow, I am going to have to buy wagyu beef from other farmers,” he said. “We have a lot of learning to do. We need to work out the kinks. If this takes off, we want to open another location in Springfield or Branson. We have to continuously get better and once we perfect it; we can replicate it and find the same success.”

An employee at Kobe Club Burgers, wearing a white dress shirt and black slacks, holds a pizza peel with an uncooked cheese pizza on it
Kobe Club Burgers owner Will Neal Neal loves Italy, so he put in a traditional Italian-style pizza oven. They make their own dough with flour imported from Italy and use San Marzano tomatoes on pizza like these, shown off by employee Sage Price. (Photo: Juliana Goodwin)

Find it: Kobe Club Burgers; 37 Enterprise Dr., Seymour; (417) 664-9779; or visit their website

Juliana Goodwin

Juliana Goodwin is a freelance journalist with experience covering business, travel and tourism, health, food and history. She is a former Food and Travel Columnist for the Springfield News-Leader, a former business reporter for The Joplin Globe, and has written for USA Today and Arkansas Living Magazine, among others. More by Juliana Goodwin