For decades, the Wonder Hostess Thrift Shop Bakery was an institution at 30th and Troost in Midtown Kansas City. People in the neighborhood remember it from as far back as the 1970s, when it was a quick and cheap place to stop by for day-old bread and discounted baked goods.
It closed about six years ago, and a new player has taken over in that location. People can still buy food there, but it’s a far cry from the processed HoHos and Zingers they used to get from Hostess.
In November 2017, native Kansas Citian Chris Goode opened the fourth location for his local Ruby Jean’s Kitchen and Juicery.
He recognizes that he's taking a chance by bringing health food to the area, but it's a risk he was willing to take.
“The expectation of that area has never been very high," Goode says. "And for me, being a young black guy, I was able to come home, if you will, and bring something to a food desert that’s heavily needed, that’s different, that’s unique."
Goode’s menu features fruit and vegetable smoothies, freshly juiced drinks and healthy breakfast, lunch and dinner items. His twist on Sweet Potato Pie? An oatmeal breakfast made with pureed sweet potato, granola, pecans, yogurt and cinnamon.
Because of the location's former and well-trod history as a discount bakery, Goode gets his share of visitors who are curious.
“They’ll think, 'I’m probably going to be able to get some chicken fingers, some burgers, some fries.' And then when they start looking at the menu, its like, 'Ooooo, wait a minute, what is this? You talking about some kale what?'” Goode says with a laugh.
He has several ideas about how to get more people to give Ruby Jean’s a chance, such as having events to give away freebies and making the business eligible for people on public assistance so more customers on fixed incomes can indulge in healthier choices.
In the meantime, he's drawing a comfortable number of diners from nearby businesses, such as Kansas City Public Schools headquarters across the street and the newer residents who have recently moved to that area of the Troost corridor.
Samara Crawford Herrara, works at the Kansas City Public Schools, says Ruby Jean's is a good addition to an area that has been underserved and underestimated.
“I am new to Kansas City, so traditionally everything that I had heard about the area was around food deserts, around it being kind of a no-man’s land,” Herrara says on a day she walked to Ruby Jean’s for lunch with a co-worker.
Goode knows the neighborhood is changing quickly. Nearby, the Beacon Hill development is a $24 million residential project going up on 27th and Troost, and lofts are opening up in the old Wonder Bread Bakery across the street.
Goode knows that he, too, is part of the gentrification. But he hopes that the business bearing the name and image of his grandmother, who died at 61 from diabetes, brings something special to the area.
“It’s a melting pot. And it doesn’t feel like we’re in a divided country right now, with racial relations and tensions as high as they are, when you walk into Ruby Jean’s Kitchen and Juicery on Troost," he says. "It feels like, it feels like home.”