© 2024 Kansas City Public Radio
NPR in Kansas City
Play Live Radio
Next Up:
0:00 0:00
Available On Air Stations

For this Kansas City vendor, the secret to success at City Market is spicy jams served with a smile

A boy stands with his grandmother behind a table lined with jam jars and syrups. Behind them is a truck with more jams and boxes, with a sign for the business that reads "San-Man Gardens"
Savannah Hawley
KCUR 89.3
Sandy Wiehe, owner of San-Man Gardens, stands with her grandson, Bennett Hampton, behind a table of her products. She's been selling at City Market for more than 30 years.

Sandy Wiehe has been running a stall for her business, San-Man Gardens, for years at the weekend farmer’s market. She knows the people like it hot, and she delivers.

Mustards, fruit-and-pepper jams and syrups line Sandy Wiehe’s stall at City Market. She’s been running San-Man Gardens for more than 30 years, but she didn’t always sell her crowd-favorite canned goods.

After quitting her job and recovering from a major surgery, Wiehe needed a new project to focus on. She grew up on a farm, so the greenhouse her now ex-husband built her was the perfect next step. Soon after, she began selling herbs and flowers at the market in 1992.

When her wine-maker friend gave her some five-gallon containers of wine, her creative juices started flowing.

“There was no internet then. So I jumped out to the library and I learned how to make wine vinegar,” Wiehe said Saturday while working at her City Market stall. “I started doing the wine vinegars with herbs in them – like basil, oregano flavored vinegars.”

Then a farmer at the market gave her a 40-pound box of bananas – so she made banana bread that sold out at the next market day.

Wiehe grew up farming and watching her aunt refine her canning process. She hit her creative stride when she expanded her business to homemade jams and mustards. She started with fruit jams, but quickly incorporated hot peppers into her offerings.

“This one guy came up to me, I wish I knew who he was, but he said it's not hot enough,” Wiehe said. “And I thought, ‘I'm gonna get you next week.’ So from that point on, I put the heat to him. I got into some ghost peppers and stuff like that, but it's not so hot that you can't enjoy it.”

Her first hot jam was raspberry-jalepeño, but San-Man has since expanded to include 18 different peppery flavors. The customer favorite is the mango jalapeño jam, which Wiehe says she can’t make hot enough.

Though she sticks to jams and mustards (and the occasional peanut brittle), Wiehe continues to invent new flavors. Friday night, only hours before coming to the market, she came up with a new recipe for ghost pepper mustard – and says it’s a popular choice today.

“People down here, they like hot. God, they buy my ghost pepper, my Carolina Reaper and they act like it's nothing,” Wiehe said.

A woman with grey hair in a pony tail gives change a person with red curly hair. Between them is a table lined with jars of jams.
Savannah Hawley
KCUR 89.3
Sandy Wiehe helps a customer at her stall that she's been running for decades. She says customers can't get enough of her spicy offerings.

Adaptability is key

Wiehe is used to changing up her flavors, but supply-chain issues and gas prices have forced her to adapt her production process as well.

The jars Wiehe normally uses are no longer available, so she’s currently on the hunt for new ones. Her normal supplier no longer carries mangoes – the main ingredient in her best-selling jam – so she had to buy them online, inflated shipping costs included.

“It's just a mess. I got a business, I like to keep the people happy, so I have to suck up a lot of the costs,” Wiehe said.

She doesn’t live far away from the market, so Wiehe has been able to avoid sacrificing to afford gas. Even still, she says current prices make her strategize how often she drives and what routes she takes.

To keep costs low – and to ensure the best flavors – Wiehe uses local ingredients as often as possible. Usually, that means buying bulk produce from her friends at the market whenever she can.

Wiehe buys watermelon, jalepeños and other produce she uses in many of her products from the market for half the price than she’d find elsewhere.

Although things might be a bit more strained than she’s used to, Wiehe says it hasn’t slowed business down. She initially thought there would be fewer visitors when the market ended free weekend parking, but Wiehe says it doesn’t seem to be bothering people because they keep coming.

A man with a red shirt and baseball hat gives a sample of bean dip out to a customer
Savannah Hawley
KCUR 89.3
Buddy, a busker and friend of Sandy's who helps her run the stall, hands out a sample of San-Man's jalepeño bean dip.

The secret to selling at City Market

For Wiehe, selling products at the market is a collaborative effort. Vendors buy from each other and support one another.

“I figure if [people] come down here for a jar of jam, they're going to walk up there and buy some tomatoes or cucumbers,” Wiehe said. “And the same with the vendors selling fruits and veggies – I'm going to grab them too. So we all work together.”

According to Wiehe, the secret to a successful day of selling at the market is a whole lot of smiles. Once a customer comes to the stall, they’ll likely leave with something.

“Just act like you're best buddies with him. You know, call them over,” Wiehe said. “You become friends with them.”

If the smiles and friendly conversation don’t work, the San-Man stand has another trick up its sleeve: samples.

Each week Wiehe offers samples of a black bean dip made with her mango jalepeño jam, and she gives the recipe out for free. Her grandson, Bennett Hampton, and friend, Buddy, help Wiehe sell her goods and attract prospective customers with jam- and mustard-themed songs that they invent.

Over the decades, Wiehe’s made a lot of friends at the market – both in fellow vendors and repeat customers.

She plans to sell at the market until she’s ready to retire, or until she stops having fun. When that day comes, she hopes that her daughter is ready to take over the family business.

“It's like a storybook,” Wiehe said. “If it hadn't been for my friends that sold down here, I probably wouldn't have got into this. But I'm glad I did.”

When news breaks, it can be easy to rely on officials and people in power to get information fast. As KCUR’s general assignment and breaking news reporter, I want to bring you the human faces of the day’s biggest stories. Whether it’s a local shop owner or a worker on the picket line, I want to give you the stories of the real people who are driving change in the Kansas City area. Email me at savannahhawley@kcur.org or follow me on Twitter @savannahhawley.
KCUR serves the Kansas City region with breaking news and award-winning podcasts.
Your donation helps keep nonprofit journalism free and available for everyone.