Chase County is becoming a regular dining destination.
A few weeks ago, I wrote about the popular Ad Astra Food and Drink, a restaurant in tiny Strong City that has a menu and an atmosphere worth the drive. It’s owned by Flint Hills native Amanda Hague and her husband, Ben Hayes, who returned to the area in search of simpler life.
Now, there’s another Flint Hills restaurant that’s about to be opened by a young couple in search of a slower, Flint Hills lifestyle.
Keller Feed & Wine Company should open before June in the spot in downtown Cottonwood Falls – the Chase County seat known for its historic limestone courthouse – that previously housed Emma Chase Cafe. In October, 70-year-old Sue Smith announced her plans to give up the cafe that she had run since 1988. The restaurant, at 317 S. Broadway, is on Cottonwood Fall’s main drag and became known for its Friday-night jam sessions.
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The owners are Janice Keller-Willaims and her husband, Bryan Williams. Janice grew up in Cottonwood Falls and graduated from Chase County High School. She’s still the school’s alumni president.
The two, who were married in front of the Cottonwood Falls courthouse, wanted to get closer to Janice’s hometown and relocated to Emporia, which is less than a 20 minute drive from Cottonwood Falls. He runs the Emporia Granada Theatre, and she works at the Emporia State University foundation.
“We met in Kansas City, and this has always kind of been our weekend vacation spot, where we’d come down to see family,” he said. “We always hoped we would end up here someday.”
Bryan, who worked 15 years as a chef at restaurants like Lydia’s and Dean & DeLuca in Kansas City, said the couple decided they’d take over the Emma Chase and make sure it remained a food and music venue.
They’ve completely remodeled the space, filling it with vintage and antique ovens, mixers and more and want it to resemble a 1930s feed store. The menu will focuses on food produced from a garden plot three blocks away and will feature hand-made pastas, pizzas, sandwiches and desserts. It’ll be sort of an “upscale deli,” Bryan said.
It’ll also serve regional wines and beers.
The couple has partnered with the Case County High School’s agricultural program, who will help them maintain a two-acre garden that will supply the restaurant with fresh produce. The extra potatoes, onions, etc., that the garden produces and the restaurant can’t use will be sold at the local farmers’ market, with the proceeds benefiting the high school’s ag program. They’ll also continue the Friday night jams, he said.
Bryan said the restaurant will be open for brunch, lunch and dinner Wednesdays through Sundays. The couple wants to first provide a place for locals to hang out, but they also hope to draw out-of-town crowds like their neighbors in Strong City have done.
“The folks over at Ad Astra have put Chase County on the culinary map,” he said. “You don’t just come here for the music and the courthouse anymore. It’s wonderful. People are realizing they can come to Chase County for food, too.”
Stay tuned for an opening date.