After three years of making handcrafted dumplings, bao and noodle bowls inspired by Taiwanese street food inside Lenexa Public Market, Katie Liu-Sung has big plans for Chewology. This summer, she's trading in her anchor spot inside the market for her dream space: the former Bluestem restaurant location in Westport.
Chewology will continue to operate inside Lenexa Public Market until June, after which Liu-Sung will close that location and reopen in her new space in Westport to give her team time to train before opening to the public by mid-August.
The new space will give Liu-Sung room to move beyond dumplings into a wider array of entrée items that will feature a mix of Chinese, Japanese, Korean and traditional Taiwanese dishes, which she may decide to brand as a different dining experience.
“I am trying to figure out what I want to do with this space because I can easily see Chewology on the bar side and our new sit-down concept in the dining room,” says Liu-Sung. “But I am not sure if I want to limit my dining spaces in that way, because I can also see a scenario where everyone is able to sit anywhere in the restaurant all ordering from the same menu. I am still working that part out.”
The new menu will be inspired by Liu-Sung's own life, from her birth in Taiwan to her upbringing in Los Angeles to her eventual relocation to Kansas City. Liu-Sung left home when she was 15 years old and has been cooking all of her life, learning to fold dumplings when she was only 3 years old.
“That is where I find comfort: paying homage to all of the places that have had an influence on me,” she says.
With the new restaurant space in great condition, all Liu-Sung plans to do is give it a bit of a facelift with some cosmetic changes, as it's important to her that people feel like they are walking into a new restaurant.
The open kitchen will be kept as is, with the addition of some new equipment needed for Chewology's new menu. The bar will be kept where it is with a more expansive cocktail, wine and beer list coming. The former pastry bar will become the dumpling bar, where guests can sit and watch Liu-Sung's team fill and fold jiaozi (Chinese boiled dumplings), gyoza (Japanese pan-fried dumplings) and jjin mandu (Korean steamed dumplings) made with fresh ingredients that change with the seasons.
For the past year and a half, long before the pandemic, Liu-Sung had been looking for a second-generation space (one with a kitchen already in place) for a second location for Chewology. When the former Bluestem space came on the market, she immediately saw the potential to expand into a full-service, sit-down restaurant.
“I was originally planning to stay on at the market and open a second location, but I realized I would not be able to give that space my full attention with a second spot open, so I gave up my space,” says Liu-Sung. “I was lucky I had that anchor spot in the Lenexa Public Market; it kickstarted my journey, but now it is time for me to let go of that space so they can give someone else the same opportunity I had.”
With that said, Lenexa Public Market manager Carmen Chopp is thrilled to see Liu-Sung move beyond the market into her own restaurant, as that's part of the market's long-term plan for its vendors. “Seeing merchants come and go was part of our vision from the beginning,” Chopp says. “It is what keeps things fresh and new for Market guests, but more than that, it is wholly consistent with our mission. We are proud the Public Market offers a space where small business owners can test out a new concept, learn about their business and from other Market merchants, grow and even expand beyond these four walls.”
And that's not the only change for Lenexa Public Market this spring. The Roasterie is also giving up its spot in the market, making room for Mr. D’s Donuts to open on April 1, serving favorites like honey-glazed donuts, donut holes, long johns, twists, bow ties, cinnamon rolls and fritters, plus a full coffee bar featuring Messenger Coffee. Founded in 1975, Johnny Chen and Boggie Otgonbayar took over the business from Chen’s godparents in 2017; over the past few months, they have been hosting pop ups inside the market, building an enthusiastic fan base.
As for Chewology, Liu-Sung’s new place may not offer the same fine-dining experience previously associated with the building, but she still plans to honor its history by making her own mark as she opens her first standalone restaurant here in the same way that Bluestem owners Colby and Megan Garrelts did before her.
“Coming into this space behind Bluestem...those are some really big shoes to fill and it was initially very intimidating,” Liu-Sung says. “For a moment I wondered if I should lean into fine dining, but then I took a step back and realized that wasn’t me. In the end, my place will be less fine dining and more Ugly Delicious.”
Chewology, 900 Westport Road, Westport, Kansas City, Missouri, chewologykc.com