“This shouldn’t be a drive-through area,” Howard says. “To me, a market is kind of a regular thing that should be part of a neighborhood. And being so close to downtown, people here need a market.”
“You don’t need a lot of options as long as your options are good, local and fresh,” says Howard, a cook at Blue Bird Bistro.
He plans to open in March of next year. Between now and then, he’s rolling out a membership system. For $60 a year, members receive an access code that enables them to enter the market. Inside, they’ll be able to shop, fill out a receipt and have their accounts debited for their purchases. The idea is what Howard calls a “quasi honor system,” although he also plans to install a camera and keep inventory, in order to track exactly what is bought and when.
“I want this to be accessible for families to eat well, and I think farmers are also really excited about the idea of having a market where they can come and drop off their product,” Howard says.
Since signing a lease on the space October 1, he has begun talking to local farmers, including the operators of Beau Solais Mushroom Farm and Campo Lindo Farms, about selling their wares inside his store. Howard also plans to stock organic grains and dry goods — basically everything you’d need for dinner.
“People in Kansas City should have a favorite farmer. They should know them, the way they know a restaurant has a certain dish, because that’s where a restaurant’s ingredients come from — the farm,” Howard says.
The vegetable patch is already taking shape on the one-acre lot adjacent to the nearly block-long building. Howard has constructed a Hoop House where he intends to grow herbs and greens in raised beds. He was pounding stakes into hard ground over the past few weeks in the shadow of Interstate 71.
“I’m building my own little world over here where everything can be made from scratch,” Howard says.
In the spring, Howard hopes to offer outdoor dinner parties in the garden two Sundays a month. His first four-course dinner was last month inside the main gallery at City Arts. Twenty-four guests drank water from canning jars and ate food from wooden plates at three communal picnic tables that Howard built with his father, Paul Hartke. His mother, Denise Hartke, will be his bookkeeper, in what will no doubt be a family business.
“I love working at restaurants. But I don’t want to miss my dad’s Father’s Day brunch anymore,” Howard says.
Howard, who grew up in Gladstone, has worked at Blue Bird on and off for the past eight years. Thanks to an apprenticeship from Johnson County Community College, he got his start cooking on the line at the Doubletree (now the Crowne Plaza) in downtown Kansas City a decade ago. Work became his school, and he left JCCC. After he helped open the Bulldog, Howard wanted to learn about food outside of a bar and grill.
“I got hired at Le Fou Frog and the Blue Bird on the same day. It just kind of worked out for me,” Howard says. “I’ve always had the opportunity to work in independent restaurants and know the owners, even if that wasn’t my plan.”
He added shifts at Room 39 and began saving money to move to California. His first business, Howard’s Chocolate Syrup, helped him realize that goal. The syrup, made from blocks of Guittard chocolate, was sold locally at Whole Foods. (It will be available at his own market.)
“It’s the best syrup in the world,” Howard says. “I’m humble, but the syrup isn’t.”
It was on the West Coast that he found the inspiration for the shop that he’s building. For close to a year, Howard toiled at Kern Family Farm, which runs a basement market beneath a local hardware store in North Fork, California.
“It was how food was supposed to be. The whole community got behind this place. Food doesn’t have to be hard,” Howard says.
Howard moved back to Kansas City in November 2010 and intended to work for several years before launching the market, but the space at the intersection of 21st and Campbell intrigued him.
“Craig was very realistic, and he has a lot of solid ideas for the space,” says Dave Dumay, who co-owns the City Arts Project with his father, Ron. “And he’s a chef at a great restaurant in town that we really enjoy.”
Dumay envisions a regular pairing of arts and eats. (Howard has catered artist openings at City Arts.) Howard hopes eventually to find a permanent kitchen space. He currently rents walk-in storage and kitchen time from the Independence Regional Ennovation Center.
“I want this to be able to support myself and the community and farmers. This should be good for me, but it should be good for everybody involved. That’s the way it should be,” Howard says.