Dave and Jessica Derr's Wiener Kitchen keeps it local by providing a snapshot of the farmer's market year-round

WeinerKitchenBlog-3.jpg

Although Dave Derr and his wife, Jessica, have been cooking together since 2001, their sausage-making business has only been around for six years. Originally started in 2012 as the Wiener Wagon, a cart which would appear at the Overland Park Farmer's Market and the occasional special event around the JoCo area, the couple opened a storefront location – Wiener Kitchen – in December of 2017.

“We were taken with that hot dog cart / food truck movement,” Derr explains of the sausage business's start, sitting at a table in the lobby of Wiener Kitchen's storefront at 9645 W. 87th Streetin Overland Park. “At the time, we were cooking at the Art Institutes International, being college professors for culinary arts.”

They had some free time, so they figured, “Let's fill this up with a hot dog cart, just to see what happens.” Of course, Derr says, it was possibly the worst time to start a project like that – their four kids were all still really little, and they were also redoing their kitchen.

“Their claim was 'Build a hot dog cart out of used stuff and things from Walmart and Harbor Freight for $399' or whatever,” Derr says, but admits that they decided to go bigger. Their garage was filled with coolers and equipment, and after some mucking around, they built their custom cart. “That took us four, five, six months, off and on, building it, and then, there it was.”

Derr says that at the outset, the couple had no purpose, but they did a few small events like a carnival and the Pendleton Heights homes tour, and steadily stair-stepped upward after their first appearance at the farmer's market later that summer.

Derr attended Johnson County Community College, as part of their culinary arts program, and during their garde manger class, wherein students learn the art and science of a cold kitchen, sausage-making was one of the weeks.

“I just got it,” says Derr with emphasis. “I loved it.”

 Derr would belt out links for dinners at the golf course restaurant he and his wife both worked at, or at home for a cook-out, and it was just something he never let go. Once the available teaching hours at his regular job started to wind down, he voluntarily stepped aside to focus on the family-owned Wiener Wagon, and now also, Wiener Kitchen.

 While there's now a brick-and-mortar location open year-round, it's not changed the fact that the business is very local. Derr's daughter can ride her bike to the shop from her house and the farmer's market – where the Wiener Wagon can be found every Saturday, from April to November – is just 3-4 minutes down the road by car.

“It's one of the places that's really helped us gain clientele around here,” explains Derr. “It's all very local to us. We love it – we're neighbors. I'm starting to get to know a lot of the families around here – like, 'Where do your kids go to school?' It's great.”

In addition to growing the business's locations, the offerings have increased from Wiener Wagon to Wiener Kitchen. While those early days might have seen only Italian sausage and bratwurst on the menu – as well as the unlikely turdurcken (a combination of turkey, duck, and chicken) – the Kitchen's menu sees bacon sausage, chorizo rojo, jalapeno cheddar kielbasa, and a vegan dog, among others, as well as a constantly-rotating menu of seasonal offerings.

“It's gone from three or four to start off with to – I don't know – 50? 60?” Derr guesses. He credits the vegan option to Jessica, upon their acceptance to the farmer's market. “She's like, 'It's vegetables. It's 2013. It's gotta happen,' and the several times we've gone out and said, 'Let's not do a vegetarian one,' we shot ourselves in the foot, because vegans and vegetarians, and saying, 'I can put some toppings in a bun'? That's not fun.”

WeinerKitchenBlog-7.jpg

The food is amazing and delicious – everything's made from American Homestead Natural Meats pork and chicken from Gerber’s Poultry – and the folks in the kitchen have paired the right sauce to put on your sausage, no matter what you order. The bacon sausage comes with homemade country gravy, for instance, and if Jessica's behind the counter, she'll even help you pick out the right kind of Jarritos soda to drink with it.

In a further effort to listen to their clientele and offer up what they hear is wanted, Wiener Kitchen is now supplied with a vegan bun by Farm to Market Bread. As Derr points out, the business is constantly evolving: “We're good about listening, and transparent about what's in there.”

A way in which the Derr's product line has expanded is that not only does the store carry a wide variety of their sausages, along with drinks and homemade chili or gravy, but customers who walk into Wiener Kitchen can also snag some local and regional products to dress up that meat.

“We're just trying to carry all of the stuff from our friends at the market,” he says, pointing to jars of locally-made KC Canning marinara sauce along the lobby's east wall. “Buy some Italian sausage, buy some marinara from them, and handmade pasta – done. You can even get cheese and have a meal.”

He points to the cold cases along the opposite wall, which feature locally-made cheeses from Skyview Farm & Creamery out of Pleasanton, Kansas, and Hemme Brothers Farmstead Creamery of Sweet Springs, Missouri. Both are producers who've been alongside the Wiener Wagon at the farmer's market for years, as well as Teabiotics, makers of the kombucha nestled next to the Lost Trail root beer.

WeinerKitchenBlog-1.jpg

Of course, what local sausage shop would be complete without a t-shirt to show your love? While maybe not as attention-seeking as shirts claiming to be “Best of the Wurst,” the Wiener Kitchen tees are nicely done, with logo work by Blue Collar Press from the get-go, going back to the original hot dog on a fork for the wagon, as well as the new Wiener Kitchen baseball-style version.

There's even a neon version of the kitchen's logo for an upcoming shirt. While the Derrs don't have an actual neon sign, folks can brighten up their wardrobe with one on themselves, which the shop's owner really digs.

“I love how we can bounce ideas off of them – whether it's a sketch or verbal,” Derr says of the Blue Collar design team. “They're awesome. There are some bro tanks coming – gotta have those. We're gonna do one of those refrigerator bags, so you can reuse it, and we're finally going to do bumper stickers – 'Honk for Hot Dogs,' 'I Brake for Bratwurst' – something to keep it fresh, man.”

Story: Nick Spacek. Photos: Austin Snell

The Raven Book Store works to make Lawrence the “culture capitol of Kansas”, resisting the notion of flyover country.

RavenBookstore_Blog-2.png

Tucked away on a side street, just around the corner from downtown Lawrence icon Liberty Hall, The Raven Book Store has been the city's independent “purveyors of print on paper since 1987,” as the shop's Twitter bio cleverly states.

However, owner Danny Caine took over the store at 6 E 7th Street just a little over a year ago, when he purchased the longtime establishment from owner Heidi Raak. However, it wasn't the start of his time with The Raven, as he'd been an employee of the store for several years prior. Caine's ownership of the store comes down to what he describes as a combination of a lifelong dream to own a bookstore and a little bit of dumb luck.

“It was always a dream, but it was a dream I didn't let myself [have],” he says with a grin. “It was like, 'Well, on the off chance that anything ever leads to this, I'd love to do it, but I should probably plan on being a teacher' was kind of what I did.”

Caine actually had a teaching career – high school and college for nearly seven years – and he learned through various ways, at various times, that it just wasn't for him. So, he came to Lawrence to attend the University of Kansas in pursuit of an M.F.A. in poetry, and immediately started trying to get a job at The Raven.

“I moved here, Lawrence was cool, Lawrence had a small bookstore, I knew somebody who worked here, and I started this campaign,” explains Caine of his goal to work in the sort of place he'd dreamed up growing up in a Borders town, where the only bookstore was the big chain. “It took about six months to convince them that they even had a job opening, and that I was a good person for it. 

Caine worked at The Raven for two and a half years, and as he lost interest in teaching, he started becoming more interested in the book business. He took on more and different responsibilities and looked into different aspects of bookselling as a career. Then, one night, Raak made an offhand joke about selling the store to Caine.

RavenBookstore_Blog-3.png

“I was like, 'This could be my moment,' right?” the now-owner says with obvious excitement. He knew she was joking, but just in case, he seized the opportunity. “I was like, 'Well, if you ever think about it, I would love for you to talk to me first.'”

Then, as jokes sometimes do, it turned into something serious. It took Caine a lot of research to determine whether or not it made sense – whether he could afford to take it on, whether it would be a viable business, and so on – and after nearly a year, he decided that this was his chance, and he took it.

“Thankfully, Lawrence has always been kind to The Raven,” says Caine appreciatively. “It's been great.”

One of the notable changes during Caine's time at The Raven – aside from more shelves and fixtures around the store since he took ownership in August of 2017 – is that, while the store has always hosted readings and visits from local, national, and international authors and poets, they have certainly ramped up over the last couple years, both in terms of number and visibility.

“That's definitely my favorite part, and the part I'm working on the hardest,” Caine says of the reading series. “It's something I have a lot of energy for. I really love bringing authors to town, and once you have a couple that work out, they very slowly begin to beget more.”

RavenBookstore_Blog-4.png

He points to a partnership with Liberty Hall as being a large part of it. While The Raven has always done library events at the Hall, they've recently begun putting on their own events there, teaming up with The Commons at KU. To say they've gone well is a bit of an understatement.

“In January, we had 550 people to see Eve Ewing, who's a debut poet in her 30s from Chicago,” offers Caine as an example. “That's amazing numbers anywhere for a poet. You could throw a poetry reading in New York City that wouldn't draw 550 people.”

Caine hopes numbers like that will make Lawrence the culture capital of Kansas, and for folks to view Lawrence as a Midwestern literary hub, not unlike Iowa City. As he says, the city has the authors, the audience, the book store, the facilities, and the energy.

RavenBookstore_Blog-5.png

“I would love for people to see Lawrence as a city where cool literary things are happening,” he explains. It's definitely a possibility, and we discuss various other bookstores in middle of the map – Iowa City's Prairie Lights, Denver's Tattered Cover, and Austin's Book People – as shops which offer up examples of how it's happened elsewhere.

“I resist the notion of flyover country so much,” Caine definitively states. “Just because we don't touch an ocean doesn't mean interesting art isn't happening here.”

Bringing in authors and sponsoring events around Lawrence is definitely a way to develop the community both in general, as well as one related to The Raven itself. It's important to do these community events, Caine says, but there's also a practical element to everything the bookstore does.

“I love Lawrence, and we love to bolster the community here and we think it's important to bring people in, but it also helps us to stay afloat,” says the owner matter-of-factly. “We have a table in the back selling books. It's a great way to sell a lot of books, and to make sure we can keep doing this.”

RavenBookstore_Blog-6.png

In addition to the thousands of books which populate The Raven's shelves, you can also take home items which demonstrate your love for the store. There's the usual – what's a bookstore without a tote bag or coffee mug? –  as well as “Make America Read Again” hats, which the owner can be seen wearing most times you spot him. Caine has also increased the number of t-shirts options available, and he's done it in an interesting way.

“Beyond mugs, The Raven had never done merch before I took over,” he explains. He's designed all the merch, except for their most recent shirt, which features an image of the store taken from Kevin Cannon's Midwest Indie Bookstore Map. There's also what Caine calls the “retro” design, which looks like an old physical education shirt from the '70s. That's where things get clever.

“I wanted to only print one color once,” he explains with excitement. “Each run is a limited-edition one, partly because I think it's fun. It's totally a gimmick, but it's also fun.”

RavenBookstore_Blog-7.png

The store printed a limited run of shirts on red and gray as a test when Caine took over, so whenever he sees one of those colors, he knows he's looking an OG, early-adopter Raven customer. It's another example of just how hands-on he is in terms of deciding what merch goes where. Caine was also pretty particular about the look and feel of the shirts, and worked closely with Blue Collar Press to determine what kind they should be.

“Blue Collar was really good about that – I love the shirts we print on,” Caine says. The quality and the price point on those shirts, he continues, allows the bookstore to make their margins and sell the tees for ten dollars less than similar-quality apparel from other places. It's the tote bags, though, that really demonstrate what The Raven is all about.

“Even if it wasn't a bag I had designed and sold to that person, I would think that a bookstore tote bag is such an important marker of who you are,” Caine concludes. “You shop local, you like to read – so that's really cool.”

715 simultaneously promotes itself & local arts scene with uniquely original idea.

715Blog-2.png

With its classy simplicity, restaurant 715 is one of the gems of downtown Lawrence. The 2018 Best of Lawrence awards – voted on by the people of the city – named the eatery at 715 Massachusetts Street “Best Dining Ambiance,” “Best Date Spot,” and gave the bar “Best Wine List” and “Best Place to get a Mixed Drink/Cocktail.”

While awards are impressive and bring notice, the European-style restaurant and bar has really made its bones by paying attention to the little details, and changing with the wants and desires of its customers since it opened in the fall of 2009. According to Matt Hyde, manager and part owner of 715, the restaurant has evolved over time, depending on both what the owners have felt like and what the guests are in the mood for. He points out the current 715 menu as an example.

“Right now – this time of year – with our new chef, Jake Dodds-Sloan, it's very vegetable-focused,” Hyde explains. In summertime, vegetables are plentiful, since they're in-season, and it's something that's light and fresh. “This time of year, I don't think anybody wants to eat squash – like, butternut squash. They want zucchini.”

715Blog-3.png

However, while 715 tries to be flexible and pay attention to seasonal availability, there are core items that stay on the menu year-round. As a recent Instagram post noted, when they attempted to replace the spaghetti with tuna, mozzarella, and capers with something else, “a bunch of people freaked out,” so they “un-replaced it” and “people chilled.”

“We have a core menu of things that are on there year-round, and then we rotate things in,” Hyde says. Even the cocktail menu follows suit. “We've broken it out in to 715 standards, classic cocktails, and then seasonal cocktails. We do an early spring, then a late spring, a hot hot summer.”

715's bar manager Katrina Weiss swaps out her cocktails not just four times a year, because it'll still be summer at the beginning of September, explains Hyde. They never set a date – the folks at the restaurant just look at the forecast and plan accordingly. Case in point: the day we were talking, it was sweltering hot out, and thanks to a suggestion from Twitter, they were making sangria.

As 715 has aged, the way the restaurant presents itself has changed somewhat. When they first opened , they had several different t-shirts available for purchase, and they were prominently displayed above the host station by the front door.

715Blog-4.png

“We had some for the staff, and people asked about them, so we sold a few of those,” Hyde says of early merchandising for the restaurant. However, merchandise never really became a solid thing for 715 – he says they probably still have a bunch of shirts in storage – so, they've pivoted in terms of what they do to promote themselves, and it's quite novel.

“What we've done to try to mix it up a little is the coasters,” the manager says, lifting up a water glass to show off one of the drink mats 715 has custom-made by Blue Collar Press. “We're on our second series of coasters with local artists. We've got four different coasters, with the story of the artist on the back.”

Hyde has been part of the Lawrence arts scene for years – his first restaurant job was washing dishes at the former downtown institution, Tellers, because he needed a flexible schedule to be involved with music things (he helped found the Lawrence record label, Lotuspool, in the early '90s). The building in which 715 sits was Silverworks, a jeweler, which was around for nearly 30 years, so Hyde says that's a way to maintain a connection to the history of the building, as well as the present of the arts scene in Lawrence.

The coasters feature work by local artists, and with the assistance of Alicia Kelly, the curated series has an image of a piece on one side, with a brief explanation of it, along with biographical details and contact information on the reverse. It's simple, but it's different, and it's definitely far more interesting to see artwork – especially, say, artist John Niswonger's image of Leatherface from The Texas Chainsaw Massacre rendered in stained glass – as opposed to the restaurant's logo or yet another Budweiser advertisment.

“Just trying to hit the arts, because we don't have art displayed on the walls,” Hyde says, pointing to the bare stone of the south wall, and the plain, painted north. “We wanted to have a way to get the word out about artists.  There's also a poetry installment coming soon, curated by the Raven Bookstore's Danny Caine.

715Blog-5.png

“Jim McCrary, the poet came up with the idea,” Hyde continues. “He was like, 'Why don't you do poetry?' and I was like, 'That's a great idea.'”

Local musician and Raven employee Chris Luxem even suggested using compact discs as coasters, but the restaurant will be sticking with the thick, hefty coasters they've been getting from Blue Collar. As Hyde points out, these four-inch by four-inch squares are pretty much ready for display, as is.

“What I like about these is, you can clip a little magnet on them and put them on the fridge,” he suggests. “Because I'm such a fan of the arts, it's great to be able to have some [artwork] here, because then, if you end up going to any of the Final Fridays or the [Ladies of Lawrence Art] events, maybe you'll see it again.”

It's great, Hyde says, because the 715 staff sees older women in their 60s and 70s quietly sneaking coasters into their purses when they think nobody's looking, but he assures everyone that they're meant to be taken.

“They're pretty – having a set of these on your coffee table at home is kinda cool, because it's not same-old, same-old, you know?” Hyde gestures to the rest of the restaurant from where he's seated by the front windows. “It's pretty monochromatic here, with the wood and the rock, but then we've got the black tables, white dishes, white napkins – so it's nice to have this little bit of color without it being obnoxious.”

715Blog-6.png

Hyde points to any number of art openings, concerts, readings, and multiple other events taking place in Lawrence on any given night, and how great it is that 715 gets to be a part of that on the regular. He hopes that the coasters can give back a small amount of that joy to community.

“We like to have all of that interaction with the arts, and this is just one way we can continue to have that interaction and support the local scene in our own way,” Hyde concludes. “I have no idea if it's provided anything other than enjoyment for me, but it's cool to help people, you know?”

Story by Nick Spacek.  Photos by Austin Snell

Wild Territory introduces multiple generations to science through merchandise

WT_Blog-2.png

Before opening Wild Territory Science & Nature Store, her science and natural history shop at 942 Massachusetts St. in downtown Lawrence, owner Joyce Donham worked as the Oklahoma City Zoo for 11 years, where she was the education curator. It was during her time there that she started the business that would turn into the cool and quirky shop.

“On the weekends and stuff, I started going to flea markets, selling science items and biology – alligator heads and stuff like that,” is how Donham describes the store's early days. Then, when she moved back to Lawrence after time away, she figured she'd either get her Masters or open a store.

“If the hills weren't so bad here, I'd've gone to KU for my Masters,” she says with a grin and a laugh. Wild Territory first opened in 2002, just a block north on the other side of the street, operating out of the back half of a storefront it shared with Prairie Pond Studio. After two years, though, Donham was able to find a storefront of her own, and has been in her current location since 2004.

The store is described on the Wild Territory website as a “unique education store,” which specializes in “providing basic as well as unusual and intriguing natural history and science products for our customers,” but that only scratches the surface of what you can find in Donham's shop. It's a veritable cornucopia of products to tempt kids and kids-at-heart.

WT_Blog-3.png

A glance in any direction will reveal fossils, mounted insects under glass, microscopes, a Lost In Space action figure, and t-shirts featuring everything from the caffeine molecule to glow-in-the-dark skeletons. It's all tastefully arranged, and pretty amazing, but the counter with insects, fossils, and a dizzying array of animal bones attracts the most traffic. It's no surprise, given Donham's background.

“We emphasize every aspect of science, but biology is really my forte,” the store owner explains, as her degree is in biology education. It's a very tactile kind of store, and Donham loves the fact that her store is a place where kids can see things in person they might have otherwise only viewed online or in books, as well as the fact that they can touch them – which is so much better than a museum.

“It's really great, because we get to introduce [kids] to science,” Donham describes the way mothers and fathers in Lawrence bring their children to Wild Territory. “This town is a very educational community.”

She's quite proud of living in a town that cares so much about science, and the fact that her store is now something of a multi-generational favorite. Having been open for almost 17 years now, some of the customers who came in when they were young, now bring in children of their own to Wild Territory.

“It drops me for a loop,” Donham says. “I heard one lady tell her child, 'This was mommy's favorite store when she was little,' and I was just – 'Holy cow! How old am I?' It does shock you, but it's very nice.”

WT_Blog-4.png

Located just two doors up from The Toy Store, the science and nature store sees a lot of business during the summer holiday break, as well as at Christmas, but people are in and out of the shop year-round (during our short conversation at the shop's front counter, two entire families come in and make a circuit around the store).

While Wild Territory sells quite a few t-shirts with logos ranging from Star Trek to an Einstein t-shirt that looks like the Aerosmith logo, in terms of store-branded merchandise, Donham says that Wild Territory logo t-shirts are very popular. When she sees someone wearing one, it makes her happy.

“It's like, 'Wow, that's great,'” she says. “It's fantastic – we know that what we're selling is working, and that people enjoy and like it.”

It's not just Lawrencians who buy those shirts, either, continues Donham, because visitors to Wild Territory are the sort who, if they stop there once, will stop by every time they're in town.

“We have a lot of people who come for conferences at KU,” she says, listing off a slew of international visitors to the store: “From Norway, Africa, England, Canada – you name it. Everywhere. They'll come in for a conference, and then buy one and take it back to their university or their museum.”

While some of Dunham's shirts are ordered pre-made from other companies, she gets her Wild Territory logo t-shirts from Blue Collar Press. She describes the positives of working with a local business to get that merchandise as being on the same wavelength.

“I can just call and say, 'Can you change this a little bit?', and get it right down to exactly what I want,” Donham says of her experiences working with Blue Collar Press. “It can be real simple, and it's taken care of, and I get exactly what I want.”

WT_Blog-5.png

A further example of just how far Blue Collar is willing to go to help a customer started with Donham. When she'd come to pick things up in winter months, the front desk manager would carry out her shirts to her, due to ice on the steep incline to the front door of their current warehouse.

“It was just the nicest thing,” Donham says. “I didn't even ask – they just started doing it for me.”

After taking notice of the trouble Donham had with the large boxes in which her shirts came, Blue Collar started a free Friday delivery for her, and eventually extended the service city-wide to their Lawrence customer base, essentially starting an entire business initiative out of a desire to help just one customer who needed it.

WT_Blog-6.png

The logo, found on those t-shirts, was designed by a customer, who did it as a favor, freshening up the shop's original sign – which still hangs on Wild Territory's back wall. While that logo was designed by an advertising professional, the current logo was a fan of the store who just wanted to give something back to a place she liked.

“She just came in and said she could make it look nice, and that's the one we're using,” Donham says with no small amount of amazement. “They're so nice! Just lovely people.”

As far as niceness goes, Donham and Wild Territory give back to the community which gives to them, especially to charities which go along with the store's mission of biology and education, like the Lawrence Humane Society, the Special Olympics, or the Jayhawk Audubon Society's annual Kaw Valley Eagles Day every January.

“We give away shirts all the time,” says Donham. “We donate a lot – probably more than I should, but sometimes, it's a worthwhile cause that I support wholeheartedly.”