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.”
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.
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