When Donnie Hutchins lived in Portland, Ore., he loved visiting outdoor markets filled with local food vendors, crafters and live music. It was one of the perks of big-city living, he said.
When he eventually moved to Wichita and opened his own food truck, Mr Natural Soul Kitchen, he wished he could find a Portland-style market not only to visit but also to work out of.
On Saturday, he made his wish come true. Hutchins, who teamed up with Janelle King of The Workroom, launched the new District Marketplace urban park with a big event that attracted 17 food trucks, 50 local artists, seven Wichita bands and hundreds of shoppers. The event doubled as a third anniversary party for The Workroom.
“Everybody’s been super-excited,” Hutchins said on Saturday. “I don’t even know how to fathom how happy I am with the turnout.”
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Even before the marketplace officially opened on Saturday morning, people began streaming in and fighting for parking places.
District Marketplace is set up in a big parking lot just south of The Workroom, 150 N. Cleveland, a design shop and the main vendor of Wichita-themed merchandise. King opened it in April 2013.
She had been putting on second-Saturday artisan markets for the past two years in her own parking lot, but when she and Hutchins started dreaming, they imagined something bigger.
He leased the parking lot south of hers and announced plans to turn it into a community park focused on food and art. He launched it with Saturday’s massive market, the kind he’d like to put on twice a year.
Similar but smaller events will continue on the second Saturday of each month, he said, and in a couple of weeks, the park will become a regular spot for food trucks and community activities. He plans to keep his food truck parked there permanently and will rotate other members of the food truck fleet in and out. People will be able to find trucks there every day, and they’ll stay there late on Friday and Saturday nights, when the park also will offer live music or family movies projected onto the side of The Workroom.
On Saturday, Hutchins debuted one of the park’s centerpieces – a permanent stage built into the back of a 1970s RV. It was employed by Saturday’s bands, which included Carrie Nation and the Speakeasy, The Travel Guide and more.
Saturday’s vendors included jewelry makers, terrarium builders, metal artists, T-shirt designers and lip balm vendors. T-shirts, mugs, bags and buttons decorated with Wichita’s flag were everywhere.
Food trucks surrounded the perimeter of the activity, and the event marked the first outings for several, including the new Drink Local Truck, a project by Nitro Joe’s owner Dan McDonald and his friend Justin Bjork. On Saturday, people stood in line to get draws of locally made craft beers, served from taps built into the side of the truck.
Local couple Britt and Zach Shoffner brought their 3-week-old baby girl, Frankie, to the market and bought lunch from the Let’m Eat Brats food truck.
The market reminded them of one they used to enjoy when they lived in Minneapolis, or maybe a miniature South by Southwest, they said. They weren’t expecting to find anything like it in Wichita.
“It seems like Wichita is starting to get a little bigger,” Zach Shoffner said. “Which is nice.”