The Sundry sets the stage for sustainable food

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Tucked away in the Crossroads sits The Sundry, a market and kitchen bringing local, sustainable food to the urban core, while working to lower its impact on the environment.

The 1930’s red brick building blends in with the neighborhood. Only a small, hanging wooden sign signifies what business is inside.

But once in The Sundry door, guests are welcomed warmly by the staff working in the open kitchen and the market.

The Sundry, which opened in December 2014, has made sustainability its top priority. Aaron Prater and Ryan Wing, co-founders of the business, have paid attention to every detail, from where they source their food, to the type of stove used in the kitchen, to the take-out containers and serve ware given to customers.

“Our industry, the hospitality industry, is responsible for a third of the waste produced in this country,” Prater said. “We can’t keep going down that path.”

Prater, a chef at The Sundry and professor of culinary arts at Johnson County Community College (JCCC), said the two knew there would be a higher start-up cost to create a sustainable business, but it was worth it in the long run.

“Sustainability in business can be the biggest source of change toward a more sustainable world,” Wing said. “(The Sundry) was a little bit of just putting those ideas into practice and proving that they can work.”

The two hope that someday The Sundry will be a zero-waste business. But for now, they have a good start.


Developing a sustainable business

Prater and Wing met while Wing was working on a grant to develop solutions to energy and water efficiency issues in restaurants. He worked with hospitality students from JCCC to help identify the problems and approach businesses on how they could become more efficient.

During this time, Prater and Wing realized they had similar ideas for a market with a kitchen combination.

“Both of us care about the food we buy personally,” Wing said. “We were having to drive all over the metro area to collect sustainable ingredients. With The Sundry, we wanted to bring all of those things together so people who love food could go get those local, sustainable ingredients without driving all over town.”

They quickly started developing the business, a planning process that spanned two and a half years.

It took them a year and a half to find a building to rent. Wing said they decided on the Crossroads area of Kansas City, MO, because of the demographic makeup of the neighborhood. He and Prater believed the people who live there would support The Sundry’s ideas, and the neighborhood was affordable enough for a starting business. So they rented a building on the corner of 17th Street and Baltimore Avenue from Shirley Helzberg.

Prater and Wing were able to add their own style to the building as it was renovated for their business. A frame around the open kitchen area was built from reclaimed barn wood. The market and dining space uses a lot of natural light provided by windows that sit about two feet off the ground and stretch to the ceiling along the whole front wall of the building and part of the side walls. There are no interior walls in the shopping area, allowing the light to spill into the whole room. In fact, the only barrier between the market and kitchen areas is a line of yellow tape on the concrete floor.

They also just installed 14.1 kilowatts of solar panels on the roof of the building a couple months ago. Wing said about 20 percent of the energy The Sundry consumes is powered by those panels. Homoly Solar installed the panels.

The kitchen, which Prater said is usually the biggest source of energy inefficiency in the food industry, is all electric and equipped with energy-efficient induction cooktops.

Other sustainable components of The Sundry include:

  • All lights are LED and motion sensored.
  • Serve ware, cups and carryout containers are all either compostable or recyclable.
  • The only trash they produce is from single-use gloves worn in the kitchen, but Prater said they are trying to find a solution to that.
  • Most food sources bring ingredients to The Sundry in reusable containers, Wing said. And for those who don’t, Wing and Prater want to work with them to reduce the waste created by packaging food.
  • The Sundry doesn’t print menus. They post them online.


Sourcing food from the two-state area

The Sundry sources from local butchers, bakers, farmers and makers whenever possible. Wing said that when they can’t find a local source, they search for a natural or organic option, while taking affordability into consideration.

A chalkboard wall on the right side of the store displays most of The Sundry’s 60 or so food sources from Kansas and Missouri, but Wing said not every farm or company is listed on the wall. And they keep adding more.

Those sources provide the store with pickles, spices, wine and beer, pet food, juice, herbs and household products, just to name a few. The products are accompanied by a tag that lists the price and the source.

While Wing and Prater couldn’t pick the most interesting item, they said most of their customers are surprised that they sell Missouri rice from the Martin Rice Company in Bernie, MO. The company grows long-grain, medium-grain, brown and jasmine rice.

The availability of local rice, and other products, has also intrigued some professional chefs, Wing said.

“One thing that’s been kind of fun, too, is we bring together so many local products that we’ve actually had other chefs in town come to us to buy ingredients to use in their restaurants,” he said.

This has become more common as The Sundry has developed a reputation in the area. A similar pattern has occurred with sources.

When Wing and Prater first started the business, they were doing all the outreach to potential sources. But since the store has opened and become more popular, potential sources are now coming to them. This variety makes the market an interesting place to peruse.

“Everything we carry has an aspect that is unique or interesting,” Wing said. “They’re each kind of doing their own thing and they’re really good at what they do.”


Building a community around sustainability

While a lot of focus has been placed on making The Sundry a zero-waste business, Prater and Wing have also paid attention to the social aspect of sustainability.

Wing said from day one, they wanted to pay their employees a living wage, which the culinary industry is not known for.

“That wasn’t the easiest choice to make, but (Prater) and I didn’t want to do this on the back of employees that can’t even afford the things we sell in our store,” he said.

The Sundry currently employees 11 people in addition to the owners. They’ve also made an impact in the community. Wing said they have donated a food and supplies to support non-profits in the area and have done complimentary catering for some businesses.

“We want to give back to the community,” he said.

And to continue that community feel, they are determined to keep prices reasonable. Wing said he and Prater didn’t want to be a “high-end market.” They wanted to dispel the myth that local, sustainable food is only for some people.

“We want to allow as many people as possible to shop and take advantage of the great products we have in Kansas City food wise,” Wing said.


By Katie Pohlman

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