Immigrant entrepreneurs have been quietly advancing Kansas City’s food scene for decades, said Danielle Lehman.
The Podcast Play
“When I started hearing the stories of the chefs, I just felt like they were so compelling, and that food is really what connects us,” said Lehman, host of the “Open Belly” podcast and founder of marketing consultancy firm Boxer & Mutt. “I felt like if people could just hear the chefs’ stories about why they’re doing what they’re doing, listeners would feel connected to that shop and feel less intimidated about trying that food for the first time.”
The podcast is a way to build buzz for businesses and brands that might not get as much attention as restaurants on the mainstream palate, she said.
Click here to learn more about Open Belly and listen to the podcast.
With the first season of Open Belly nearly complete, the show has covered restaurant owners from a variety of cultures, such as the Philippine-fueled Chrissy Nucum of KC Pinoy, Fannie Gibson from Fannies’s West African Cuisine, Norma Palomino of Antojitos del Peru, and Keeyoung Kim of Sura Eats, said Lehman.
Sura Eats already has a substantial following, she admitted, but most listeners are unaware of Kim’s behind-the-scenes work in the community.
“He doesn’t like to brag about it,” she said, laughing.
Click here to listen to the Sura Eats episode.
A number of the restaurants featured have seen an increase in sales, Lehman said, noting Sohaila’s Kitchen in the Lenexa Public Market reportedly had its best-ever weekend after an episode aired spotlighting the space’s cuisine.
“A lot of people came in from the podcast,” she said. “They are doing amazing Pakistani food and a lot of people know about them in Lenexa, but I don’t think they get a lot of street cred in Kansas City, Missouri.”
Click here to listen to the Sohaila’s Kitchen episode.
“That makes me feel like it’s worth it — that they’re seeing this uptick in sales. Hopefully in some way, karma will come back to me,” she added, laughing.
Though podcasts can be inexpensive to produce, the level of effort — and in the end, money — that went into Open Belly was intentional, Lehman said, noting the marketing materials, photography, and production came from a talented team of four, while she focuses on content.
“I don’t feel like it’s doing any of the restaurants any favors to take my crappy iPhone photography and slap together unprofessional podcasts because what I’m trying to do is elevate those experiences,” she said.
“I know a lot of people don’t have the resources to be able to do that so I’m not trying to discourage anyone from [making podcasts with whatever means are available], but because I’m trying to bring attention to these restaurants that aren’t always getting it from the media, I felt like it was really important to do that really well,” she added.
Open Belly’s second season is expected to be released in the fall with possibly a more national focus, said Lehman.
“I’m not quite sure if we’re going to stay in Kansas City or maybe explore another city,” she said. “I really like the idea of hearing how the immigration story is slightly different from community to community and then also inspire people to travel to those cities as well. I’d pick cities that people wouldn’t necessarily think of as a foodie destination.”
Open Belly now sits at nearly a thousand subscribers, she added, with the national focus expected to allow for more growth and hopefully a more self-sustaining model.
“The difference between my marketing business and my podcast is that Boxer & Mutt makes money,” she joked. “I think there are optimistic signs, though. On average, 90 percent of people make it through a full episode and people are coming back to listen to multiple episodes, so our growth has just continued to go up week after week.”
Originally just a passion project, the Open Belly podcast became so much more — aided by the personalities behind the good Kansas City eats, she said.
“I love all of them,” Lehman said. “They’ve all become like friends and family to me and I really hope we’ve inspired people to go out and eat at those restaurants, but at the same, I think the spirit of Open Belly is to encourage people to go out and explore their neighborhoods. Check out that restaurant down the street that no one’s really talking about, get to know your neighbors and support your local business owners as much as possible.”