Wiener Kitchen has always been a community-driven venture, said Jessica Rush, which includes providing options for all members of the community — meat eater or not.
“We started at a farmers’ market, and I felt really strongly about having a vegetarian and vegan option. A lot of people go to the farmers’ market because they are getting fresh, local vegetables to support a vegan or vegetarian diet, so I didn’t want to limit our audience,” said Rush, who co-owns Wiener Kitchen and Wiener Wagon with her husband, Dave Derr.
Click here to read more about Wiener Kitchen and its origins.
The couple’s emphasis on being able to serve all types of diets recently got PETA’s attention — landing Wiener Kitchen on the People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals’ Top Vegan Dogs of Summer 2023 list.
“We are a meat-centric business,” Derr acknowledged, “but our housemade vegan dog allows for family and friends to eat together, even if someone doesn’t eat meat. When we get an awesome mention like that, it helps our storefront get a new wave of guests and diners.”
Wiener Kitchen’s vegan dog is a roasted cauliflower, walnut and wild rice link with a green tomato relish, pickle brussels kraut and whole grain dijon. When the team goes on wheels in the Wiener Wagon, they offer a carrot dog for vegans and vegetarians.
“Our carrot dog is a peeled and sized carrot, marinated in some grapeseed oil, a little bit of salt and pepper, and then roasted and topped with vegan toppings,” Rush noted. “It’s a lot less labor intensive than the vegan dog, but equally as delicious.”
PETA selected Wiener Kitchen to be one of the 10 restaurants featured on its nationwide list after a collection of online polls and taste tests from their team, said Amy Stewart, spokesperson and grassroots coordinator for PETA.
“The list is a great opportunity for people to go explore some of the delicious vegan options in their areas,” Stewart said. “We put it out over the summertime because everybody’s out grilling, and we’re seeing an uptick in people opting for vegan options — both at restaurants and when they’re grocery shopping. We definitely encourage people to try it out and experience how tasty eating vegan can be.”
Wiener Kitchen has been recognized for its variety of high quality sausages and to also be showcased for other menu items is also confirmation their commitment is paying off, Derr shared.
“It validates the fact that we focus on everything that we put our hands on,” he explained. “Our vegan/vegetarian offering is not an afterthought. We are sausage makers, and we are actually hand making a vegan sausage.”
Individuals whose curiosity was piqued by PETA’s list have already been coming in to try Wiener Kitchen’s vegan dog, Derr noted. The restaurant has seen a steady uptick in business, especially on National Hot Dog Day, which falls on the third Wednesday in July.
“July is also National Hot Dog Month, so wrapped in with the Fourth of July, summer is always a pretty busy season,” Rush said.
Focusing on the storefront
Wiener Wagon — a mobile food truck — was the original venture Rush and Derr founded in 2012 while they were teaching culinary arts. The couple opened their brick and mortar, Wiener Kitchen, in 2017.
After serving sausages at the Overland Park Farmers’ Market for a decade, they decided to take a step back this summer and dedicate their energy to the storefront.
“We’ve seen people who usually came to us at the farmers’ market come to our storefront now instead,” Derr said, noting that Wiener Kitchen is about two miles from where the Overland Park Farmers’ Market is organized in the populous Johnson County city’s downtown. “That’s been really nice. We’ve been able to grow while not stretching out limits trying to manage both the store and the farmers’ market.”
“Our bodies love it; our sleep schedules love it; our children love it; our emotional well-being loves it,” Rush added. “Neither of us are planning on going to the grave wishing we would have worked a little bit more.”
Although they are no longer at the nearby farmers’ market, Wiener Wagon still participates in local community and catering events, the couple noted.
“We haven’t ruled out the farmers’ market in the future because of how great of an environment it is; the growers and makers there have become our friends and families,” Derr said. “This slower pace just feels like a bit of payoff after 11 years of our Wiener Wagon.”
Consistency is key
When customers come to dine at Wiener Kitchen, they can expect to enjoy the same, flavorful sausages that the Derrs first served in 2012, Rush said.
“We stay true to what we wanted from the start: a limited menu that focuses on everything being consistently great,” Rush continued. “… I once read that the No. 1 complaint of diners is not the service, atmosphere or price. It was the fact that people couldn’t go to the same restaurant and get the same meal every time. It would taste different. We started with seven or eight menu items, and it wasn’t until everyone could make every single one the same way every time that we felt comfortable expanding our menu.”
The duo has since expanded their menu, proud to serve all dishes for breakfast and lunch.
“[Picking a go-to dish] is such a loaded question,” Rush said. “The bacon sausage is our No. 1 seller, and it probably always will be, but what we tell people is that the standard menu will always be here for you. It hasn’t changed since we opened. If people are craving something they’ve never had before, I point them to the Chorizo Rojo. If you’re into spicy and fried eggs, it’s a must try.”
For those who enjoy variety in their sausages, Wiener Kitchen offers special feature items on a daily basis. Once the dish is sold out, they move onto the next.
“We consider our features here today, gone tomorrow,” Derr said. “During the summer, we offer our Black Hawk, which is a Chicago-style dog. Some people are going to say, ‘You guys don’t serve a Chicago-style dog all year?’ No, we’re stubborn, and we don’t serve tomatoes in the middle of winter.”
“We serve tomatoes that are grown, by people we know, in a way that we support,” Rush noted. “Those are the only tomatoes that grace our fresh menu.”