Editor’s note: KCultivators is a lighthearted profile series to highlight people who are meaningfully enriching Kansas City’s entrepreneurial ecosystem. The KCultivator Series is sponsored by Plexpod, a progressive coworking platform offering next generation workspace for entrepreneurs, startups, and growth-stage companies of all sizes.
He’s mastered the art of pairing the perfect cookie with the crispest of beers, written a handful of books and thousands of articles, traveled the country, and made a name for himself as one of Kansas City’s most recognizable, foodie founders.
But how did Jonathan Bender — an East Coast native, now food editor at KCPT — find himself thriving in landlocked Kansas City?
A freelance writer with a deep curiosity for his surroundings — an appetite that grew to crave the culinary scene — Bender landed in the metro just shy of 12 years ago, he recalled.
“A writer could kind of write anywhere,” Bender said, reflecting on his move from the Big Apple to the City of Fountains after his wife took a new job with the City of Kansas City, Missouri.
Click here to see some of Bender’s work for Flatland, KCPT’s digital magazine.
Leaving behind a life in the city that never sleeps, Bender finally found time to drill down on his interests and the inspiration to write his first book — LEGO: A Love Story, he said.
“I’ve been a bit serendipitous [in Kansas City] and also had some opportunities to explore things that I felt passionate about,” Bender added of job opportunities that began to fall into place while he freelanced with The Kansas City Star and The Pitch magazine.
“The Pitch had an opening on their Fat City blog, for a food writer. I kind of convinced both [publications] to let me work two beats at the same time,” he said.
Taking on such work helped Bender realize his interest in food writing — an art that matched his palate with his professional skills, he explained.
Wandering and writing, Bender grew increasingly inspired by Kansas City’s rapidly evolving interest in food — lending to his journey down the path of entrepreneurship, he added.
Putting “perma-freelancing” in his past. Bender launched the Recommended Daily in 2013 — a wildly successful food and drink site that also played host to curated food events, he said.
“At the time, there [weren’t many food events] beyond the American Royal,” he recalled. “To have the opportunity to bring together local makers in a meaningful way led to additional book opportunities … I started a media lab with Kansas City Public Television (KCPT) in 2016.”
Opportunity rich, Kansas City has welcomed Bender with open arms and a full belly over the course of the past decade — a trend he hopes is steady as he works to further explore the metro and highlight for Kansas Citians its hidden gems, he said.
Startland News talked with Bender about his Kansas City experience, his stance on TV reboots, and to pinpoint which dish the food blogger can’t resist. The KCultivator Series is sponsored by Plexpod, which reimagines a workspace model where businesses share resources and grow together.
Hometown: Fairfield, Connecticut.
A historical figure you wish you could follow on social media: Abraham Lincoln.
Weirdest thing you’ve eaten: Everything! I’m generally not very picky. Realistically, I’ve yet to meet something I wouldn’t try — once if not several times.
Best thing you’ve eaten in Kansas City: Boy, is that a loaded question for a food editor, right? … Kitty’s Cafe, pork tenderloin. It’s always right!
Why do you call Kansas City home: I think it is an easy and lovely place to live.
What startup do you find most interesting right now: Hail Coffee, coffee cart. In part because it’s a throwback to an earlier time. … And mobile coffee is just really interesting to me.
What you would do if you weren’t in your line of work: I think I’d be an ice cream taste tester. The person who determines flavors are ready to go and meet the public. It sounds like the kind of job that like … Who wouldn’t want that?
What word or phrase do you hate the most? I don’t use the word “hate,” but I can’t unhear the word “um.”
Biggest accomplishment: Being a good person.
Biggest failure: Not solving the newspaper industry. As a working journalist who wants newspapers to hang around, the inability to crack that — yet — has been a vexing problem for me.
Who in your life inspires you: My wife, Kate! Because she is pure and driven with purpose and unbelievably giving.
You have a time machine and can travel anywhere in the past or future. Where and when do you go? I’d go 20 years in the future, because I’d be dying to know what my kids are like as adults.
Favorite travel locale: Maine. To read a book while you hear the ocean.
Your mantra or motto: It all works out in the end. … Because things tend to work out in the end.
Guilty pleasure TV show: “Voltron.” The reboot. Because it’s bringing back something I loved as a kid, that I’m now enjoying with my kids as well.