Hungry to try something new

Hungry to try something new
Posted on 08/07/2018
Concepts like the Lenexa Public Market are taking off as customers crave a different kind of dining and retail experience

(from the August 2018 issue of Lenexa's TownTalk resident magazine)

It’s midday Saturday in the Lenexa Public Market, and a cluster of kids crane their necks over the  counter to see a blast of frigid nitrogen zap a bowl of liquid into ice cream in a flash. Nearby, a group of friends swap plates of savory Japanese dumplings and fig-drizzled pizza at a long communal table, and a couple makes plans for the weekend over lattes and cinnamon-speckled coffee cake.

Food halls like the Market are popping up across the nation and the Kansas City metro area. As e-commerce continues to rattle the traditional retail and dining worlds, developers have found that customers are excited to leave the house for unique products and experiences.

That’s where destinations like food halls and public markets come in. Since they’re made up of a mix of vendors, each has its own unique flavor. Lenexa’s secret sauce comes from its position as a city-owned and managed facility.

“The Lenexa Public Market serves many purposes,” Manager Carmen Chopp explains. “It’s an economic engine for the city. A launch pad for businesses. A place where the community can connect around food.”

With low overhead, multiple attractions to draw diverse customers, and the opportunity to try out new products and hone their skills as chefs, artisans and business owners, food halls and local markets are ideal small business incubators. And that variety attracts first-time customers and keep others returning to see what’s changed. 

Alejandra de la Fuente, owner and chef of Red Kitchen Tamales, serves up her food stall’s namesake tamales twice a week. The rest of the week, Red Kitchen draws lines of visitors with a rotating mix of burritos, tostadas, soups and other Mexican street food. 

“The Market offers me the perfect opportunity to introduce people to the authentic flavors of Mexico through my cooking,” said de la Fuente. “I have discovered that people who eat at the Market are already curious and open-minded about exploring new and interesting foods, which inspires me to try new menu items. 

“What especially thrills me is giving the kids of today a chance to experience real Mexican food firsthand — a memory I hope they cherish someday.”

While the handful of anchor restaurants and about seven smaller food and nonfood stalls like to mix up their menus and offerings, they're able to generate followings that result in foot traffic for their neighbors.

Day carts and pop-up restaurants in the Market's demonstration space, The Kitchen, add even more vibrant variety. It’s common to see several day carts set up throughout the Market each weekend doling out edibles, accessories, artwork and home goods.

Christy Bean, owner of Aunt Christy’s Country Kitchen, has used recurring day cart appearances to introduce new audiences to jams in unique flavors.

“I’m a big proponent of shopping local and supporting local businesses, so it was a no-brainer for me to choose the Lenexa Public Market to grow my business,” said Bean. “I love the community atmosphere, the opportunities I have as a vendor and the camaraderie with other vendors and shoppers.”

The very atmosphere that appeals to so many shoppers and merchants can put other visitors out of their comfort zones. Merchants set their own hours. Your favorite muffin or burrito might be there one day and gone the next. You’ll notice empty stalls as merchants switch out.

But that dynamism is at the heart of the appeal of spaces like the Public Market. It’s what keeps customers coming back and merchants inspired to try new things.

“The Market is alive with activity, whether it’s social or economic activity,” Chopp said. “It’s a living thing, and by their very nature, living things change. They are dynamic. They evolve. And that is what we hope people come to understand and appreciate about this unique space."

A delicious mix of food and fun at the Market Food halls like the Lenexa Public Market pair delicious fare with memorable experiences to embrace exciting trends in the retail and dining industries.

dog and ice cream

Vendor specials allow the Market's creative merchants to experiment with exciting new products and techniques — like the dog ice cream offered by Mad Man's KC BBQ at the PAWtriotic Pet Parade.

kids decorating cakes with piping bags of frosting

Cooking classes in The Kitchen teach culinary skills like canning or using a cast iron skillet correctly, meal preparation for diets like the Mediterranean or vegan diets, and how to make desserts like macarons and tarts. We occasionally offer kids' classes too, like this fun cake decorating lesson!

Common Descent day car merchant and wares

Day carts bring vibrant diversity to the Market's offerings! You'll see these vendors sporadically in the Market. If you've found a favorite, be sure to follow them on their social media accounts to see when they'll next be in the Market.

plate of butter chicken and rice

Pop-up restaurants in The Kitchen allow visitors to try out interesting new flavors and culinary styles, like the Indian-Pakistani offerings of Sohaila's Kitchen.

teens outside of Public Market at dusk

"The Lenexa Public Market has been the perfect location for a pop-up shop for my boutique. The cool, contemporary atmosphere, along with the friendly merchants, make for an inviting space to meet friends, do some business, eat, drink and shop in a relaxing location. People love having all of this in their neighborhood, and I am so impressed with the livelihood the Market brings to Lenexa." 

– Susan Hagenkord, owner, Abitino Bianco

people sampling beer at Utepils

Special events bring something fun for everyone  to the Market. Over the last few months, we've hosted everything from kids' Easter parties to ticketed tasting events to our inaugural Utepils party celebrating the first pleasant day to enjoy a beer outdoors in the spring.