The Main Street Cafe in Durham, Kansas, has been serving up “Good Ole Country Cooking” for more than 17 years. Located in the quiet rural town with a population hovering just over 100 people, the Main Street Cafe not only draws crowds of regulars from surrounding communities, but also attracts and surprises visitors and passers-by from across the state and the nation. The family-style, Mennonite cooking is the key.
The restaurant is owned and operated by Wendell Wedel, who said he often found himself in the kitchen in his youth, observing his mother’s style of cooking. Though he remembers little cooking success in his childhood—”I loved Graham Cracker Fluff. By the time I was about 10 years old I decided it was time for me to make it… There was no fluff made.”—Wendell said that after he married his wife Linda, he found himself in the kitchen again. “Like most everyone,” he said, “you soon find yourself helping your wife that’s on the food committee at church.”
That committee had the need to fry up large amounts of hamburgers for an upcoming auction, so Wendell, now welding at a local trailer factory, put together a griddle using a half-inch steel plate and scrap iron from the sides of a stock trailer. The contraption worked, and 600 burgers were sold at the auction. Wendell’s beginning in food service had arrived.
Success in sausage-making then came out of necessity. “In my growing up years,” Wendell said, “my dad had all the butchering equipment he needed for processing beef and pork, and in the winter months he would go and help those in the church and community process their supply of meat.” But in March of 1989, his father suddenly passed away. Seeing the need in his community for those skills, Wendell taught himself to use the equipment.
Working in the garage with this mother, Wendell experimented with recipes untill he found a combination he liked. He soon offered some samplings to his co-workers, and his oldest daughter began taking orders at her job at a local retirement center. “By the time her second order was posted,” Wendell said, “she had at least 200 pounds.” In the third winter of sausage making, they processed 3,000 pounds.
Wendell said he enjoyed having guests over for evening meals, and he realized that if he made a few modifications to his steel griddle, he could turn it into a deep fat fryer. “It was at one of these events the right person at the right time suggested I try opening a restaurant,” he said.
“I took that to heart because I already wanted to find something different to do,” Wendell said. “At that time we did not live in town, but we considered Durham, Kansas, my home town.” Though there were some options for a location, the opportunities seemed few in the small town.
“Then we heard of the cafe downtown closing and someone needing to take it over,” Wendell said. A banker in Durham told Wendell about the building. It was in need of some remodelling, and he would personally finance that part of the construction.
“I told him if he would be willing to make a room that I?could process sausage in, then I would be interested in taking it over,” Wendell said. The banker agreed, and the Main Street Cafe opened on October 4, 1995.
Since then, Wendell and the Main Street Cafe have become popular not only for residents in Durham and the surrounding communities, but across the state and country. The restaurant has been in the spotlight for its homemade sausage, wide variety of freshly baked pies, year-round peppernut supplies… the list goes on.
In the last few years, Wendell expanded his restaurant into an adjacent building to accommodate the crowds of guests, especially for the Friday night buffet, which features German favorites such as vereniki, cherry moas and sauerkraut.