Bumper crop

Whole, fresh ingredients grow healthy local businesses

Written by Amy Palser

Shopping at Wichita’s farmers’ markets is a great way to support local small business owners and to ensure you’re buying fresh, quality, locally sourced food. But some Wichita vendors have taken their food passions beyond the farmers’ market into full-blown production and onto grocery store shelves in Kansas and surrounding states. Now they’re making household names out of the products they’ve created, and they’re having a blast doing it.

Cozy Leaf

Abby Hannaford’s passion for tea started in an effort to heal her aching throat due to long periods of singing as a musical theater major in college. After developing nodes on her vocal cords, she medicated herself with hot herbal tea.

“The problem was that the herbal teas I knew were good for me were also barely palatable,” she said. She eventually bought her own ingredients and mixed tea leaves and dried herbs until she achieved a tea that both soothed her throat and tasted delicious. “As I experimented, friends and family began turning to my teas for wellness and relaxation.”

In 2009, Hannaford opened Cozy Leaf for business to the public. The teas are all-natural and organic, preservative free and made in small batches by a team of six employees at a location just north of Wichita. A building on Hannaford’s property near Valley Center serves as a warehouse and distribution center.

“I deal with about 120 ingredients that go into 33 different tea blends,” Hannaford said. “My heart’s desire is to make them healing for the body as well as delicious. A major part of it is dealing with 100 percent organic, whole-leaf ingredients. For instance, when we deal with chamomile the whole flower is dried and it retains a lot of the properties, whereas other tea companies crush and powder them, and it ruins a lot of those properties.”

Working on a small scale means the teas go from field to store shelves in a short amount of time, ensuring both freshness and quality. “We pride ourselves on sourcing the majority of our ingredients from local U.S. farmers,” she said. Fifteen years of studying herbal remedies means Hannaford understands how different ingredients work together in the body. The names of the teas highlight their healing properties — things like Brain Boost, Breathe Deep, Cozy Clean Detox, Immune Support and Mood Lift.

Cozy Leaf can be purchased at multiple locations in Wichita, including Whole Foods Market, Green Acres and Vitamin Cottage, and is served at Reverie Roasters and Homegrown Restaurants. It can also be purchased at the Old Town Farmer’s Market and online at cozyleaf.com.

Chile Slinger BBQ Sauce

In the six or so years that Mark Chambers has been selling the barbecue sauce that he developed and tinkered with for 15 years before declaring it “done,” the condiment has developed quite a following.

“They like it because it’s a thick product with a lot of ingredients,” said Chambers from his Chile Slinger BBQ office in west Wichita. “We build our ketchup in the kettle — we don’t use ketchup, per se — and we use all natural, gluten-free ingredients. That allows us to be in the health food stores. Everybody likes it. A little goes a long way.”

When demand for the sauce increased to the point that Chambers couldn’t keep up, he found a manufacturer in Kansas City, Kan., to make it using the original recipe. The sauce, as well as the other Chile Slinger lineup of products, including rubs, can be purchased in Wichita at Whole Foods, Natural Grocers, Yoder Meats and Spice Merchant. He also distributes the product to stores in Emporia and Topeka in Kansas, as well as St. Joseph, Mo., and Eureka Springs, Ark.

It was at a hunting cabin in the Chautauqua Hills in the mid-1990s that Chambers first cooked up a batch of his now-famous barbecue sauce, in an effort to cover up the taste of some badly cooked venison.

“I whipped up some stuff and the guys liked it,” he said. “From that point on we’ve had a good time with it.”

Wyldewood Cellars

From multiple varieties of wines to its famous elderberry concentrate, Wyldewood Cellars 20 miles south of Wichita has fulfilled their original mission of making the family farm profitable. Brother and sister team Dr. John Brewer and Merry Bauman began making elderberry wines in 1995 from the existing elderberry plot tended by their mother on her ranch near Peck.

Today Wyldewood has over 40 wines made from fruits, berries and grapes, which have earned the company nearly 600 national and international awards and titles at wine competitions. Their repertoire features sweet wines like strawberry rhubarb pie and strawberry moscato (which when mixed with the chocolate elderberry is reminiscent of chocolate-dipped strawberries). But they also have dry wines like their cabernet and Chisholm Trail, which is a white grape blend. Their wines can be purchased at one of their three locations, at liquor stores throughout Wichita and Kansas, as well as online at wyldewoodcellars.com.

But besides receiving accolades for their wines, Wyldewood’s elderberry concentrate is a medicine cabinet staple in many households. Extremely high in antioxidants, elderberries are said to alleviate respiratory issues and allergies, among other chronic conditions. Bauman said in Europe, elderberry syrup is called the poor man’s medicine.

Wyldewood’s 12.5 fluid ounce bottle of elderberry concentrate takes 3.6 pounds of elderberries to produce. Elderberries are naturally low in sugar, although other brands on the market contain added sugar or non-elderberry juice concentrates.

“We do not do this,” Bauman said. “We only add water to our Elderberry Super Concentrate. It has a very tart, concentrated flavor, and many people add it to their favorite beverage.” Other companies use dehydrated elderberries that have undergone a heat process, removing many of their desirable properties. But Wyldewood processes the berries into a thick paste, adds filtered water and bottles and flash pasturizes it without heat.

Bauman’s mother, now 90, was at one time the nation’s leading authority on elderberry production, and began hybridizing plants, believing that the berry’s medicinal qualities would be critical for the healing of certain diseases in the future. Bauman’s brother, a research scientist, studied elderberries at length and spent eight years and 200 formulas developing what is now a best-selling product for the company. Elderberry Concentrate is distributed to stores across the nation, but in Wichita can be purchased at Whole Foods.

John’s Pita Bakery

It was five simple ingredients that John Srour used to make his famous pita in Lebanon as a young man. The master baker and pastry chef had learned the secrets and time-honored methods of traditional French and Arabic pastry at age 13 in his home country.

When he moved to the United States and settled in Wichita, he continued to make his pita using the same five simple ingredients, serving them at his Middle Eastern cuisine restaurant, N&J Cafe, as well as a wholesale pita operation, N&J Bakery.

John passed away about seven years ago, but his sons Nick and John run the distribution and wholesale operation today, now called John’s Pita Bakery. They prepare the rustic pita daily and deliver it to Wichita’s Lebanese restaurants like Meddys, Bella Luna, and N&J Cafe. The pita is also available in packages to the public at Whole Foods in Wichita.

“We small-batch bake everything every single day,” Nick said, adding that they have expanded into Kansas City and Tulsa. “We’ll bring it to your door fresh every day. For 40 years it’s been made the same way: flour, water, sugar, salt and yeast. No additional preservatives. It makes things taste a little better, I think.”

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