A Kansas City-simmered food hall concept is expected to unveil its long-awaited dining experience next month in the lightwell building downtown — pairing two well-seasoned culinary minds with appetites for inventive tastes.
Officially dubbed the Strang Chef Collective at lightwell, the chef-driven venture will feature a duo of restaurant concepts — Verde and Panacea — in the lower level of the office building, right across from the new Made in KC Cafe.
Its current opening date is tentatively targeted for mid-November, with an exact date yet to be confirmed. The eateries will be open for breakfast, lunch, happy hour, and dinner.
This latest endeavor from Strang Chef Collectives builds upon the company’s previous success at Strang Hall, another chef-driven food hall experience in downtown Overland Park’s Edison District.
The new space in the heart of Kansas City’s financial and business community is expected to offer unique — if delayed — opportunities to showcase top culinary talent, said Shawn Craft, CEO of Strang Chef Collectives.
“What I’m most excited about is providing a great experience to the guests and visitors to the Central Business District,” he said of the lightwell addition, which was first announced in February 2020 before evolving the soon-to-debut concept amid an ongoing pandemic. “This has been a long time coming for us. Unfortunately, we’ve had multiple delays through the supply chain and the construction process, so we’re eager to get open and start serving our guests.”
The two chefs charged with leading the concepts include one Strang Hall veteran and a newcomer — both of whom grew up in the Kansas City area and attended the Culinary Institute at Johnson County Community College.
Derek Losson — who has run Minglewood in Strang Hall since August 2021 — was just announced last week as the second chef at the lightwell location. He will lead Panacea, an eclectic bistro rooted in the New Americana style of cuisine.
“Panacea is a cure-all ailment for everything, and hopefully guests will think of our restaurant as a cure-all for their hunger and appetite,” Losson said of why he selected the concept’s name.
Diners can expect standard fare for breakfast, with more inventive and unique options — like a couscous salad and bronzino dish with gnocchi — available for lunch and dinner, he said.
Panacea will also offer vegan and vegetarian options, Losson said, and plans to “lean into happy hour” with an appetizer menu.
Verde will be led by Nicole Shute, as Strang Chef Collectives previously announced in August, and will feature Latin American and Spanish cuisine.
Shute, who boasts more than 15 years of culinary experience, said she plans to bring “the rainbow spectrum of the produce world” to Verde’s menu, hence the name choice — “Verde,” which means green in Spanish.
“I’m a big fan of fruits and vegetables,” Shute said. “I like to do things with them that you don’t normally see in typical day-to-day cuisine. I feel like [fruits and vegetables] are lacking in some industries, that we’re not utilizing them as much as we can.”
“So my goal is to build recipes that start off with a lot of fresh ingredients that are vibrant, very colorful, and use the rainbow spectrum of the produce world, then take those and add influences that capture that,” Shute added.
She ultimately decided that Latin American, Spanish, and Mexican cuisine were both “approachable” to guests and matched well with her produce-heavy goals.
Verde’s menu will be “heavy” on such lunch items as salads, bowls, tacos, and handhelds, Shute said, adding that the eatery will offer a “really elevated shareables dinner menu” that aims to capture an “upscale but approachable” vibe for business meetings and date nights.
From scratch (but without too many cooks)
Like his new neighbor Shute, Losson can draw upon more than a decade of culinary experience as he opens his first original restaurant concept.
While he enjoyed his previous roles at the Marriott in Overland Park and Oread Hotel in Lawrence, Losson said, he’s always been looking forward to a space of his own.
“It’s a really exciting opportunity to finally have something that I’m starting from the ground up, from scratch,” Losson said. “I’ve always toyed around with the idea of having my own place at some point.”
Strang Chef Collectives employs a unique business model in which the company finances the restaurant space, provides back-office support and business coaching, and empowers the chefs to focus on their craft and tap into their creativity.
“We’re here to help, and we do view it as a collaboration,” Craft said. “The opportunity we provide for chefs is that they get to come into this with low to no risk.”
The collective uses a profit-sharing model with the chefs, he added.
Losson cited that chef-centric approach as a huge benefit to younger chefs like him who might not be able to take on such a project otherwise.
“That’s another really exciting thing about Strang [Chef Collectives] is really giving chefs that ownership of their own place,” Losson said. “I can run my own business but not have to break my bank to have my own spot and really express my creativity.”
Shute echoed those sentiments, noting how rare it is for a chef to have such control over ingredient selection and menu offerings.
“We get to do what we love, which is create, and do it how we want to do it without a lot of restrictions,” Shute said. “That’s something that’s very uncommon. In most restaurants, you’re gonna do a menu that’s been previously put together or you’re gonna have another group of people who are gonna ‘yea’ or ‘nay’ what you wanna do.”
Having that freedom to explore atypical dishes within her concept makes this “kind of like a dream job,” Shute added.
Although the two restaurant concepts will operate independently, Losson and Shute are expected to provide kitchen collisions on occasion, Craft said.
“The idea is that hopefully they’ll also collaborate on some menu items as well, which you wouldn’t get otherwise in the average dining experience,” Craft said.
For their part, both chefs expressed excitement about the opportunity to blend their unique creative concepts.
Future of dining, lessons from the past
While Losson and Shute share years of experience in the kitchen, their passion for food and professional journeys began at different stages of life.
Growing up on a farm in Troy, Kansas — located just across the state line from St. Joseph — fresh food and ingredients have always been a part of Losson’s life.
He often planted produce in the family garden, raised livestock with his uncles, and, of course, cooked new and different meals, he said.
“Food has always been a very big thing in my life in some capacity or another,” Losson said. “I’ve just always been interested in that.”
It wasn’t until he moved to Kansas City in 2010 that he began seriously pursuing a culinary career, enrolling in the Culinary Institute at JCCC and taking an apprenticeship at the Marriott in Overland Park.
Losson appreciates how culinary work has exposed him to people from so many different cultures, backgrounds, and perspectives from which he can learn, he said.
“I had one chef I worked with who always told me, ‘You can always learn from anybody no matter who it is, from a dishwasher to a server,’” Losson recalled. “They might have a recipe they learned in their life or something they were taught. Just don’t be too proud to take lessons from anyone you work with.”
Shute spent much of her twenties working as a server and bartender before taking a job at a country club, where she witnessed how a banquet-style kitchen can operate like a “machine,” she said.
“I just really got hooked while I was there because they would do big events and they were just grandiose with the tables and all the plateware and everything looking really amazing,” Shute said. “Just seeing them put on these gorgeous events, I was really kind of intrigued.”
So she befriended the chef at the country club, who had attended JCCC and recommended that she do the same. Shute took his advice and never looked back.
Shute called the chef collective model “the future of dining,” noting how guests will likely appreciate the ability to try different dishes and cuisines at the same location.
“I think that it’s exciting for guests to be able to come and try different types of cuisines without having to drive all around town,” she said. “I think that when you come, you can have a different experience every time.”
As she reflects on her own journey, Shute said, she’s excited to offer unique culinary experiences to guests all across her hometown, as the collective plans to provide catering services for private events in addition to the eateries at lightwell.
“I’ve lived here my whole life and I’ve noticed that even in the downtown area where we’re going to be, it’s constantly growing, and it’s very exciting,” she said. “Kansas City is just thriving, so I’m really excited to be part of that.”
Losson agreed, saying he feels like Kansas City is finally getting some well-earned recognition for its culinary offerings.
“I feel like [Kansas City] is finally getting its place on the map as far as having a good culinary scene and being recognized for that,” he said. “I’m really excited to be a part of that culture within the food scene in Kansas City.”
This story is possible thanks to support from the Ewing Marion Kauffman Foundation, a private, nonpartisan foundation that works together with communities in education and entrepreneurship to create uncommon solutions and empower people to shape their futures and be successful.