Tuesday, June 30, 2009

The beauty of the Whiting Cafe Makeover

Click on the photo above to view slide show.

A simple sign. That's about as formal as we got. We had no kick-off meeting or big hurrah. As people arrived they somehow slipped into jobs and everything fell into place. Imagine 100 people that didn't know each other, all with different skills and aptitude, working on and in a tiny cafe that seats only 25. Locals and folks from Colorado, everyone got along great. The common denominator was working hard for the good of Rosa's cafe but also for this small town.

The mural kind of became the symbol of the makeover. Fresh paint, new look. The white and black concrete wall now had a splash of color and pizazz. The black-lettered sign now was red. The front door painted red, too.

This wall symbolized the entire cafe. Newly-painted, new mural, new windows, and new shutters.

When meal time rolled around, we'd all walk about 4 blocks to the former-school-turned community center for meals. Rosa and the community ladies always fed us well and greeted us with warm smiles. Usually a number of locals would join us and sometime we'd have entertainment! For lunch one day we had a folk singing duo. For supper we had a country-western band!

Everyone that worked, about 100 people, got an "I Kan Help!" shirt in black or white. This is Michael Eravi, our Window Guy from Lawrence. People wore the shirts with pride. Volunteers worked about 1,300 hours during the weekend.

WenDee's job all weekend was to document, to Facebook, to Twitter, and to take pictures and videos. You'll get a better feel of everything if you go to these links.

A few pictures before we started. (Get to the pictures and then click on slideshow)

Alot of pics during the effort.

A few after. (If anyone goes to the cafe, send pictures!)

The grassy lot beside the cafe was filled with tools, supplies, and power saws and wash stations were located under tents. Inside, the place was completely torn apart. I bet Rosa shuddered every time she checked on us. At one point all of the windows were out making it look like we were creating windows for drive-through service. Not having windows did make it easy to pass supplies from outside to in.

There was plenty of water, pop, and Gatorade in big coolers under the trees. People would take breaks as they needed them. The local grocery store comped the bags of ice.

The beauty of the makeover was how everybody coordinated their movements and efforts and got along flawlessly.

The beauty was how the community and the volunteers came together, trusted each other, and worked for the same goal. Everyone was so selfless. This effort was for a business yet no one seemed to be jealous or question what we were doing. People sent on errands returned with the supplies and just said they'd donate the cost.

Rosa was a good catalyst. She's a character but has a big heart. Everyone knows she'd help them and everyone knows that a small town needs a cafe to be viable.

The cafe. The workers. The community.

You'd have to say it was all just beautiful.

Gene Merry, Burlington, is a Kansas Sampler Foundation board member. He was in charge of the project. Next is Rosa, then somehow I got in the picture. Bob Topping, Leavenworth, was the project foreman. The volunteers were the story though -- and most can be seen in these picture and video links.

Another good place to see a story and pictures of the project is at Flyover People.

It would be satisfying to know that just reading about this project helped people "Get Kansas!" You gotta love our rural towns.

KE #2 Marci Penner

Sunday, June 28, 2009

We're almost done

"Food so great you'll scrape your plate" are the words in Jim Stukey's mural that graces one side of the cafe.

But the slogan is also stenciled around the ceiling of the dining room thanks to Keyta, Rachel, and Katyln -- and Eli.

The air conditioner is working -- thanks to Kelly and his crew.

Our window guy Michael and assistant Eric built frames and have all the windows in.

Sue put contact paper on all the shelves within the horseshoe. Von and Katy helped.

Jerry got all the tile laid where new ones were needed.

Jeanette, Ellen, Susie, Diane all doing odd jobs.

Stacy & Diana were the Degreaser Queens and have that grill looking shiny and new!

Doug is working hard on the bathrooms -- sink, paneling.

Electric saws and hammers sing out -- Jeff, CJ, Jim, and others in charge of that.

Mary, Elizabeth, Janet, and Gene painting everywhere.

Gerald and Stacy are hanging lights.

These are just a few of the names of the many people that helped. Even Rosa's Mom was down on her hands and knees scrubbing the floor.

Pots and pans, dishes, appliances are getting a clean-up.

Rains came twice and we covered everything up but we kept going.

Bob and Gene are capably in charge keeping everything in forward motion. WenDee doubles as documentarian and then goes to work.

Locals and Rosa's relatives are all helping.

People were driving by to see the progress -- or walking through the cafe.

We walk about three blocks to the community center for our meals made by Rosa and community women. We're joined by dozens of locals and treated to plenty of great food. At noon today the Baptist preacher and his wife sang folks songs in the echoey gym where we eat. At supper, a country-western band, including Rosa's uncle, performed. It was awesome!

It felt like a big old community party and everyone had their role.

But when Rosa comes to check on things, she's the main focus and we all want to know what she thinks. Sometime she'll just be the character that she is, so she won't cry. It's overwhelming for all of us -- and today we're going to wrap it up.

Hope you'll all find a time to come eat at the new Whiting Cafe!!!

Gotta go to work. KE #2 Marci Penner

Saturday, June 27, 2009

Ready to go!

I'm ready for day 2! A little sleep is great for recovery.

Today we should see some little projects getting finished. The outside of the building is painted a fresh coat of white. Barb re-did the Whiting Cafe sign in red. The mural "Food so great you'll scrape your plate" looks fabulous. Windows will go in today. Duct work. Ceiling is cleaned and will be painted today. Some floor tiles will be replaced today.

I have to say that we had the most phenomenal workers yesterday. Phenomenal. Everyone was focused, helpful, friendly, and dedicated to the task at hand.

Fresh workers are coming in today, too. It's all good.

Rosa and relatives are watching with a careful eye. They are starting to realize we're doing this for the love of Rosa and small towns -- relentless for rural we are.

Live near by? Just come on over to see the action and "Get Kansas!"

KE #2 Marci

Friday, June 26, 2009

Whiting Cafe Makeover - Day One

This will be short.

We're all exhausted.

But what a great day it was. We turned the Whiting Cafe upside down. Rosa was great to let us do it, too.

Probably 45 different people helped today. It was the perfect mix of skilled people and hard workers -- and lots of locals cheering us on.

Before we knew it the windows were all out, the mural started to take form, the exterior was painted, and, inside, people were working diligently on more than a dozen different projects.

People came from Netawaka, Muscotah but also Wichita and Colorado, Concordia, Burlington, Holton, Salina, Leavenworth, Kansas City, and more.

Rosa, her family, and the locals were fabulous to us and fed us lunch and supper in the community building.

Rosa was gracious to let us take apart her place. The workers felt rewarded. Many media outlets were there this morning. It was a win win win for everyone.

Now, how can we create a system that makes it easy to match many rural community needs with many people who want to help.... To be pondered on a less-tired brain.

This was a great day. Thanks, Whiting, for being our experiment. Your story will be told time and time again and it will help people "Get Kansas!"

KE #2 Marci Penner

Thursday, June 25, 2009

Whiting Cafe - the pre-makeover visit

We got to Whiting about 2:45 p.m. Rosa closed at 2 p.m. and was already in full motion cleaning out the back room and moving things to the community center in order to feed us tomorrow. Her family and relatives were helping.

WenDee went around taking pictures of the "before." It definitely looks like a restaurant that has been in business for 25 years. This weekend's "makeover" is going to make it into a new place, one that Rosa and customers will love.

We went back to Holton to do a number of errands. While WenDee printed off a volunteer chart at the chamber with help from Pam Halladay, I visited the folks at the Holton Recorder and went to say hi to thousand dollar donor Tom Bishop at Homestead Affordable Housing. From there we went shopping for supplies before meeting Gene Merry and his son Bobby for supper.

Gene and Bobby had been working at the cafe for awhile prepping things for tomorrow. Guys were there installing the exhaust fan and Lower's brought the new air conditioning and heating unit. John had brought over the new windows. The new freezer was delivered by Jayhawk TV & Appliance of Holton.

It'll be like directing an orchestra tomorrow but Gene Merry and Bob Topping will keep everyone moving. We just have to keep hydrated... it's going to be hot.

I'm ready to get started. I know Rosa will sleep better when this is all over. She's such a hard working, good person. It's going to be lots of hard work but a joy to do this for someone like Rosa and for a town like Whiting.

"Get Kansas" by helping or following the action on WenDee LaPlant's Facebook or her Twitter account or on this blog. It should be pretty special.

KE #2 Marci Penner

Wednesday, June 24, 2009

Marshmellow Cups are what to get!

The Lo-Mar is an institution in Eureka. Loy and Mary Browning opened this Valentine Diner back in the early 1960s and it's been making people happy ever since. Now, Robert Inge, a friend of Kami, the youngest of seven Browning kids, owns the place.

The current owner and constant presence behind the window is Robbie Inge.

I'm not sure how an old-fashioned hot dog tastes different than a new-fangled one but the sign makes me want to find out -- if I can pull myself away from ordering a hamburger where the crinkled and uneven sides, that prove it's made from fresh meat, hang way outside the bun... And then there is the fresh squeezed limemade... I should stop.

Today the glory goes to the Marshmellow Nut Cup.

Having ordered one of the classic selections at the Lo-Mar, this customer is mighty happy with the nut cup. A generous portion of warm, marshmellow topping cascades over a mound of soft serve chocolate ice cream, with salty nuts adding the perfect complement. If you prefer, you can order vanilla ice cream or a swirl combo.

We went to the Lo-Mar after the horse races and bumped into the Galen & Linda Craghead family, with sons Luke and Levi, and Linda's sister Sheila. After they all got a taste of WenDee's Marshmellow Nut Cup, they, too, went to the order window.

Next time you drive through Eureka, stop at the Lo-Mar. The only thing that might be better than all this is Robbie's fresh peach milk shake.

Lo-Mar's, it's a magnet! You'll find yourself there soon, especially if you want to "Get Kansas!"

KE #2 Marci Penner

Tuesday, June 23, 2009

It's a sure bet you'll have a good time at Eureka Downs

Did you know that Eureka Downs is older than the Kentucky Derby? The Horse Racing Capital of Kansas got its start in 1872 and has been going strong ever since.

What a good time we had at this ol' track.

But you won't see any horse pictures here. I hadn't got that far.

In the third race, a horse took a bad tumble past the finish line on a muddy, wet, messy track. Three more horses and jockeys tumbled over the first horse and that was it for the day. A good call to end it there.

I was already sold on the place. You could get (relatively) close to everything. You could walk up to the fence in front of the stables and take a look at the horses before they left their numbered stall for the starting gate.

Or, you could stand right beside the track railing for a bird's eye view.

Everything was simple and comfortable. Nothing fancy. There was an enclosed area above the bleachers but we didn't go there. There was too much culture to absorb!

Early on we ran into Heather Fuesz and her son Cash. At one point she sent him to get a sno cone, his second of the hour. No worries. Then he found a comfortable place to eat it.

Though I had no idea what all the odds and numbers meant, I boldly chose a horse called "Neewolah," another one called "Racing Wonder" and another one that had a Kansas name. I placed a trifecta bet asking for a $2 bet on each. Somehow that cost me $18. I didn't bet after that. It was easy to realize I needed an upgrade in strategy.

There are a few races left. June 27, 28 and July 4. General admission is $3. Gates open at 11:45 and the first post is at 12:30. There are usually seven races on any one racing day.

Then, on July 10-12 parimutuel races take place at Anthony Downs, just outside of Anthony. Horse races. Greyhound races. Same track. The wooden stands are classic. For more information go to www.anthonydownsraces.com.

With Heather, we discussed the idea of having an Explorers Day at the track next year. We'd devote a whole day to learning every aspect of the horse racing business from raising and shoeing horses to talking to a jockey and getting a lesson on betting. From pasture to race track, we'd learn all about it. Wouldn't that be fun?

If going to the race track isn't something you normally do, that's even more of a reason to catch one of the races left this year. It's a culture all into itself and it's just as much fun to people watch as it is to horse watch.

Learning about various aspects of rural culture helps a person "Get Kansas!"

KE #2 Marci Penner

Friday, June 19, 2009

8 Wonders of Kansas Cuisine Announced

The result of 7 1/2 weeks of voting and 13,861 votes has determined the 8 Wonders of Kansas Cuisine! In alphabetical order, they are:

Bobo's Drive In, Topeka: The hamburgers, homemade onion rings, and apple pie have made this place famous since 1953.

Brookville Hotel, Abilene: Moved from the historic hotel in Brookville to Abilene in 2000, the famous family-style chicken menu has been served since 1915.

Cozy Inn, Salina: Since 1922 this 6-stool diner has been serving their famous sliders.

Crawford County Fried Chicken: Chicken Annie's, Chicken Mary's, Chicken Annie's Pichler's, Gebhardt's Chicken and Dinners, Barto's Idle Hour and Chicken Annie's Girard have made Crawford County legendary for fried chicken.

Free State Brewing Company, Lawrence. The state's first legal brewery after the days of prohibition also serves a variety of ethnic recipes.

Guy & Mae's Tavern, Williamsburg. Family-owned since 1973, tender ribs are served in foil and newspapers.

Hays House 1857 Restaurant & Tavern, Council Grove. Located on the Santa Fe Trail, this is the oldest continuously operating restaurant west of the Mississippi River.

Wheatfield's Bakery Cafe, Lawrence. This nationally-ranked bakery serves healthy meals featuring artisan breads.

Congratulations to the 8!

But that's just the "list" part of it.

If you really get to know the finalist by either reading their story or, better yet, going to each of the 24 finalists, you'll learn about our state's history, people, customs, architecture, and more. Go and ask questions and explore the town of the finalist and you'll get much more than a meal.

Here are a few facts to help you look beyond the "list." There's much more to notice.


Smallest city with a finalist was Simpson, pop. 101, with Trapper's Bar and Grill.

Cities under 1,500 with a finalist were Arlington, Leoti, Cottonwood Falls, Williamsburg, Scammon, Altoona, and Simpson.

Six finalists were located west of Salina and Wichita -- Anchor Inn, Hutchinson; Carolyn’s Essenhaus, Arlington; Charlie’s Mexican Restaurant, Leoti; Crazy R’s, Goodland; Pho Hoa, Garden City; and Trapper's Bar & Grill, Simpson.

Two were located in old residential neighborhoods in big cities: C.W. Porubsky's is in the "Little Russia" area of Topeka. The original Fritz's is in an old Kansas City, Kansas neighborhood.

The origins of six finalists date back prior to 1934 (Hays House, 1857; Brookville, 1915; Cozy Inn, 1922; Nuway, 1930; Homer's, 1931; Chicken Annie's, 1934).

Paolucci’s Restaurant opened in 1983 in Atchison but the recipes came to America with Grandma Paolucci in 1894. Josie's in Scammon uses recipes that date back to 1904 when Grandma Josie immigrated from Italy.

Types of food featured:
Ethnic (Italian - 2; Vietnamese - 1; Mexican - 2; Amish Mennonite - 1; Cajun/creole - 1; Russia - 1;
Mediterranean - 1).
Chicken - 2
Fine dining - 2
Barbecue - 1
Steak - 3
Americana burger - 4
Artisan bakery - 1
Mountain oysters - 1
Microbrewery - 1

From a list to facts -- but we need stories.


The Hibachi Hut, located within the confines of Aggieville in Manhattan, actually started out in 1953 cooking on a hibachi!

Chicken Annie's and Chicken Mary's both started out because their miner husbands had injuries that prevented them from going back to the mines. The women did what they knew best to provide income for the family and that was cook. They both started serving customers in their homes and the Crawford County fried chicken legacy was born.

Each place has a story about the place, the owner, the change in ownership, or the food. Many stories are found by clicking on the pictures.

One of my favorite stories in the whole contest was what happened to Pho Hoa in Garden City. In a way, it has changed how the family sees itself even to the extent that the comment was made, "Now we belong." It's a beautiful immigrant story, as Andy Mahoney says, and the impact of how this contest boosted their business and esteem is without a doubt, the biggest contest achievement of all. They have been continually busy since the contest started. To read their whole amazing immigrant story, click here.

To call this whole effort merely a contest trivializes the impact that educating Kansans about their own state can make. It's really a launching pad for each person's own journey in learning about Kansas.

Take that journey and it'll help you
"Get Kansas!"

Kansas Explorer #2 Marci Penner

Click here to get a "Guide to the 8 Wonders of Kansas Cuisine 24 Finalists"

Wednesday, June 17, 2009

The start of something great

I'll keep this picture in my head for a long time. Meet the brainstorm team of Ashley Bogle (blue shirt), Greenwood Co. Economic Development; Julie Roller (black shirt), Development Associate of Pottawatomie Co. Economic Development; Abby Dechant (behind Julie), Wabaunsee Co. Economic Development and her intern Kayla.

We met at The Miracle Cafe in Reading, a town of 246 in Lyon County. It was an appropriate place to launch a big discussion.

Here was the question to ponder: What would happen if young people, ages 17-35ish, across rural Kansas united to address a number of issues including: jobs, technology, housing, social opportunities, and, mostly, making rural Kansas a desirable place for young people to live and work?

What would happen if those same young people figured out how to build their own network, organize their own agenda, and lead the way. What's different is that no one would be telling them how to make it work -- it would happen in their time, their way, and once the snowball got rolling they would be a force to deal with. I'm certain Rural Kansas will never look the same.

I had identified these three women as people who loved living in rural Kansas and were invested in rural communities being viable. They are women with intelligence, vision, creativity, and commitment to rural. I've been watching them for awhile and have been very impressed. There are others but these three already knew each other and got along well and it was easy to meet for lunch.

Within 24 hours, the ideas have been flying back and forth. I'm watching them become well aware of the potential for a statewide group (anchored by lots of smaller regional groups) and what they could accomplish. They clearly understand the work that needs to be done and in the course of these 24 hours they've easily mastered the notion that a gathering of young minds driven to make rural Kansas better can do exactly that.

I will do my best to guide when they ask for assistance or when they need a sounding board but my greatest role will be to stay out of their way and just observe and record what is about to happen. It is going to be great.


For awhile I've been asking for a "Power Up" contact and e-mail address from every rural town. If you know someone, or more than one, between the ages of 17-35, that wants to be associated with this young rural movement, send the information to me at marci@kansassampler.org. I'll get these names to Abby, Ashley, Julie, and Kayla.

Today, I started a group page on Facebook called "Powering Up Rural Kansas." That will serve as the group name until another is chosen.

Young people, we're looking for you. If you love rural Kansas, send your name and e-mail address. Let's get going on this. There is much work to be done, much fun to be had, a New Rural to be formed.

These young people will help show us how to "Get Kansas!"

KE #2 Marci Penner

Artisan Coffee Roaster Extraordinaire

If you like coffee - or even if you don't - you gotta check out Blacksmith Coffee Roastery located in “Little Sweden USA” - Lindsborg, Kansas. The owner, Mark Galloway, is a young entrepreneur who opened his unique business in one of the oldest buildings in town - the Holmberg & Johnson Blacksmith Shop.

We arranged to meet a good friend of ours, Kathy Kajinami from McPherson, there for a cup of joe before heading to parts farther east one day. Little did we know that we would get an incredible tour of his facility and witness the art of roasting Arabica beans from beginning to end. What a marvelous process that involves skill, science, math, patience and a passion for coffee.

Arabica Beans come from all over the world! Measuring out beans for roasting

Mark and his family had a booth in the Mercantile Tent (Kansas products) at the Kansas Sampler Festival in Concordia this May. He sold so much the first day that he ran out and stayed up until midnight roasting more for the following day.

After the coffee is roasted it is quickly cooled. Packaged coffee. Kathy Kajinami enjoys the aroma.

Some of Mark's coffee blends include: Sumatra Lintong, Guatemala Genuine Antigua Pastora, Espresso Especiale (my personal favorite), Panama, Honduras Miel Cafe, Brazil Vaqueros Extraordinarios, El Salvador Cuzcachapa Organic and Papua-New Guinea to name a few!

You can buy coffee directly from the store or online at www.blacksmithcoffee.com. This is must place to visit while in Lindsborg!

WenDee, Marci and Mark are happy to be
exploring the world of java making!

You know when Mark is roasting coffee by the smell that lingers around his store on Main Street! You also know when you "Get Kansas" when you stop and smell the coffee!

Wednesday, June 3, 2009

A Cause to Celebrate

Champagne glasses were served throughout the crowd so all onlookers could share a toast for the re-opening of the 1905 Weaver Hotel in Waterville, a town of 664. This great event took place May 23.

Two million dollars later the Weaver has ten rooms open. We could tour only one that day because the others were all full. Terrific!

Rooms are furnished nicely with antiques. Bathrooms have been installed in each room. The beds look very comfortable. They've done it right.

One meeting room is on the main floor.

Fancy T's has moved from downtown to the Weaver and owners Sandy and Sharon also serve as the caretakers, greeters, and receptionists for the hotel.

It is so awesome that a town of less than 1,000 could do something like this. It took a tremendous volunteer effort for this 10-year project to come to fruition and all should feel very proud. Bruce McMillan was the architect and the contractor was a local man, Richard Nelson. Bob and Janice Cole wrote successful grants. Many people donated to the cause. Why?

Because people, especially those who have a connection, are drawn to these great efforts in small towns -- efforts that will help keep a town viable. These people gave generously and worked uncommonly hard to open this place and they did it for one reason -- because they love Waterville.

To "Get Kansas" you should stay a night in the Weaver and spend a day getting to know the town and its people. You'll have a real good feeling about rural Kansas if you do.

KE #2 Marci Penner