3 local gourmet food producers offer unique flavors to the city.
Story by Dave Eckert
We’ve all seen them. Perhaps you passed by as they were sampling their wares in a supermarket, liquor store, or at a public event. Maybe you’ve tasted their stuff, and if you’re a good citizen, you’ve even bought some. They are producers of local food products from soup to nuts and beyond. And, they are increasing in both numbers, diversity, and quality every day. They travel different paths, produce vastly different products, but share a common trait – a passion for where they live and what they make. Let’s meet three: the people behind Thez Nuts, Dragonfly Gourmet Foods, and Tasty Thai.
Thez Nuts, which stared out as Dez Nuts, is more than just a product whose name gets your attention. It’s the story of three friends who started a nut company named after a Dr. Dre. It was a joke that became a reality. Thez nuts are available in a variety of enticing flavors on-line and in stores across the metro.
I asked founders Chris Oliver, Carmen Chopp, and Jacob Lowrey what their greatest challenges and rewards have been since starting their nutty company. “Challenges? Juggling the business with our time constraints, our kids, and our careers. Rewards? Seeing something that we created from scratch on store shelves, or meeting someone who’s already had our products or is following us on social media,” Lowrey stated.
Thez Nuts are great on their own, but for a real taste treat Oliver says to try their Mochadamias, chocolate and coffee-covered macadamia nuts, over a bowl of vanilla ice cream. He’s nuts! And, I mean that as a compliment.
Dragonfly Gourmet Foods is the brainchild of Krista and Quinten Koetting, a husband and wife team with a culinary background (Krista) and a business/retail background (Quinten.) “We’re in our third year with Dragonfly. Krista and I both grew up canning with our grandmothers, so we learned a lot about food at a young age. But Krista went to culinary school, so she’s the chef and the mastermind behind the products,” Quinten Koetting told me.
It hasn’t been an easy path for the couple. In the midst of her culinary training, Krista fell ill and was diagnosed with P.O.T.S or Postural Orthostatic Tachycardia Syndrome, which causes wide swings in your heart rate from lying down to standing up and leads to what Quiten calls “good days and bad days.” On the good days, Krista would create recipes and can. As her health improved, the two decided to share the recipes with the public. Dragonfly Gourmet Foods was born.
“We started by selling organic marinara, dill pickles, sweet relish, and salsa at the Olathe Farmer’s Market. Since then, we’ve grown modestly to 30 products that can be found in 17 stores, and are also available through Shatto home delivery and the Overland Park and Park Place Farmer’s Markets,” Koetting said. Quentin says running their own food-based business has been a big learning curve, but they love what they’re doing and the delicious and healthy products they’re creating.
Finally, the story of a personal friend of mine, Marisa Wiruhayarn, a native of Thailand who has pursued the American Dream to the tune of three restaurants; two Tasty Thai’s and one Big Bowl Pho. Wiruhayarn also sells two sauces created at the restaurants, a Primal Cry Thai Hot Sauce and a Sassy Peanut Sauce.
“Perseverance is critical to success in small business,” Wiruhayarn shared. Perseverance is one of Wiruhayarn’s strongest traits. She is a tireless promoter of her products and is generous of both her time and her sauces.
“I love getting people to try my sauces. Seeing their face light up when they try them for the first time always makes me smile,” Wiruhayarn told me.
Wiruhayarn also enjoys getting people to think outside the box when using her products. For example, substitute her Primal Cry Hot Sauce for Louisiana Hot Sauce the next time you make chicken wings. You will not be disappointed.
If you’d like to check out more local people and their great local products like the ones featured here, be sure to put the KC Foodie Festival on your calendar. The festival, the first annual, will be held at the iWerx event space at 1520 North Clay Street in North Kansas City on Saturday, December 2 from 10am until 5pm. The KC Foodie Festival will feature dozens of local producers and dozens upon dozens of their delicious products. Tickets are just $5 and can be purchased by visiting iwerx.org.
Attendees will be automatically entered into raffles for a host of great prizes, and there will be a terrific selection of food-themed silent auction items up for bids with proceeds going to a worthy charity.