Food & Drink

Small-Batch Wonders

They’re not big, but these three local condiment producers are bringing something special to the table.

Story by Lindsey Corey

Zim’s Sauces

Todd Zimmer set out to blend the tastes of his hometown of Buffalo, N.Y., with his chosen home of Kansas City. The result is part hot wing, part barbecue and a whole lot of flavor.

“We call it the peanut butter cup of sauces,” says the owner of Zim’s Sauces.

He and his wife, Janet, had been gifting the hybrid during the holidays for years, but in 2010 they decided to bottle, label and sell Bufsas. That year, the sauce placed in the top five in New York’s annual Buffalo Wing Festival.

Friends kept wanting it hotter, so there are now four heat levels. Todd can only stand a drop of the Bläksas sauce, but he’s seen plenty of people douse their wings in it.

“People who can handle that heat aren’t like us,” he says. “When I make it, I’m just tasting to see how long it hurts and how much it hurts. But because it’s pretty complex and I use a lot of ingredients, people usually mention that it’s not just heat but heat with a lot of flavor. Flavor is the point; heat is secondary.”

To spare his taste buds and continue creating, Todd moved on to spices and kicked-up balsamic vinegars.

“I like it when things have a lot of different flavors that are subtle,” he says. “Sort of like good music: at first you like it so you keep listening, and then suddenly you realize you never noticed that cello in the background. That’s how our products are. It helps them not be one dimensional. If it’s complicated but still balanced, you can use it on a lot of different things.”

In fact, the Zimmers’ 11-year-old son Austin suggested adding the original sauce to noodles and calling them “zoodles.” They worked on recipes, and the father-son team did a cooking demonstration together at the local Le Creuset Signature Store.

And their younger son Ian, 9, is a big fan of potato chips, so they’re experimenting with a dry spice version of Zim’s famous sauce to add to his favorite snack.

“It’s a fun way for our kids to learn about business, customer service—they go on deliveries with their mom —and manufacturing,” Todd says.

While his Buffalo restaurant roots help the sauces stand out, the Kansas City transplant says his company’s success is purely Midwestern.

“If one of us in the KC food community is doing a demo or a sales pitch, we’ll showcase another brand and vice versa,” Todd says. “If somebody likes mine, I say, ‘You have to try his.’ It’s a little bit surprising coming from New York, but it feels right and it works well. If we build as a community, then we’re a stronger artisan food source. We can’t each of us meet everybody or fulfill every need.”

You can try Zim’s Sauces on wings at RecordBar, The Brick and the Crown Center Sheraton, or stock up at Werner’s Specialty Foods, The Better Cheddar and McGonigle’s Market or online at zims-sauces.com.

KC Canning Co.

You could say it started with the cherry tree behind their house in Queens, N.Y., in 2011. But really, Tim and Laura Tuohy’s love of preserving food goes back much further. Laura “helped” her grandmother can tomatoes from the garden and make applesauce in Kansas.

“I’m not sure how much help I actually provided,” she says of her 7-year-old self’s skills. “But I remember she’d let us put Red Hots in with the apples to make them pink, and it was so cool.”

And growing up in New Jersey, Tim recalls his surrogate grandparents, first-generation Italian immigrants, were always busy making and saving sauces. So with Tim in culinary school and that tree full of cherries, it was only natural that the two do a little reminiscing and experimenting.

“It was kind of funny because in New York City it’s pretty rare to have a tactile experience with nature, and here we were with our fingers dyed red from pitting cherries,” Laura says. “What really intrigued us was that I’m from KC and he’s from New Jersey, but we both had really visceral memories and it was sort of a cultural narrative that translates.”

Canning connected them with their pasts, with each other, with the food and with friends.

“We started to really push boundaries with different flavor combinations to make them more sophisticated,” Laura says. “We didn’t realize how unique what we were doing was until we started sharing it with other people, and seeing our friends and family get excited about it.”

The couple moved to Kansas City three years ago and married in April. Wedding guests took home their homemade Clementine-Thyme Marmalade, which was also featured in a cocktail at their reception.

“We got a crazy warm reception,” Laura says. “That was our biggest push that made us believe this could be something we could do.”

And they knew Kansas City was the place to do it, she says.

“In Kansas City, if you work hard, people are really responsive. They see your passion and want to be a part of it,” Laura says of her hometown. “And there’s an incredibly supportive food community here; that community of makers is really inspiring and positive to be part of.”

Photo by M&E Photography.

The couple launched KC Canning Co. the day before Thanksgiving. Their batches of pickles, jams, specialty cocktail garnishes and preserves—like the Ancho-Date Butter Tim suggests on pork tenderloin, the Vanilla Bourbon Peach Preserve Laura adds to ice cream or their Balsamic Pickled Grapes—were selling out at five local shops by Christmas. They began online sales of the handcrafted concoctions in January at kansascitycanningco.com.

Tim does the production, and Laura calls herself the label queen. Each jar is hand numbered and its batch listed, just like grandma used to do.

“Time is such a commodity; if you’re willing to give up time to create something beautiful, people can feel that,” she says. “Being able to pass on the art form of making food and continue that thread through what we were taught by people really paramount in our lives—passing that on and having our jars be part of someone else’s story—is huge for us.”

The Touhys get their produce locally, and they’re working with KC nonprofits BoysGrow and New Roots for Refugees as part of their goal to improve sustainability of their products and to give back to their community.

Wood + Salt

Growing up, Jess and Ben Anthony’s mother’s fridge was covered with their artwork and awards. These days, her Facebook page serves as mini shrine to her daughter and son’s business, Wood + Salt, which pays homage to Kansas City’s “tradition of slow and low barbecue,” Jess explains of the company the siblings started in August 2013. Originally from Olathe, Jess worked in coffee shops, restaurants and farmers markets in San Francisco for six years before moving back to Kansas City with a different kind of culinary aspiration.

“Ben does a lot of woodworking, so I asked him to help me find trees for wood chips and for building tables for the City Market Farmers’ Market,” she says. “It’s kind of funny because I’m six years older, so when I moved to California, he was still young. When I came back a couple years ago, I was still thinking of him as a kid, but he’d really matured and grown up. He kept doing more and more until he became my business partner.”

Together they create small-batch rubs, wet and dry brines, spices, smoked sea salts, finishing salts, infused sugars for cocktail rims and sustainably harvested artisan woodchips for smoking.

“I knew I wanted to do something different,” Jess says. “But I was worried KC people would say, ‘That’s not barbecue.’ It’s playing with the traditions of barbecue, but it’s not traditional barbecue. I like the idea of giving something new life and making it your own. And people are embracing it.”

Wood + Salt sales have increased 500 percent in a year.

“We’re in that funny, awkward teenage phase where we’re growing as a business but not quite able to quit our day jobs even though it needs our full-time attention,” Jess says.

Tellicherry Rye Peppercorns, infused with rye whiskey and then smoked over pecan wood, is their most popular item. Jess suggests trying it atop macaroni and cheese or your next steak.

“On the outside, it’s kind of bacony, and on the inside it’s got a pipe tobacco sweetness,” she says. “I like flavors like that that are surprising but balanced. It’s like tuning a guitar: once the combination hits the right note, you’re like, ‘That’s it’.”

The duo also teamed up with Boulevard Brewing Co. to create a Tank 7 salt sold in the brewery’s dry goods store at the Country Club Plaza. Try it with pork chops, chicken, a pretzel or a Campari cocktail.

Jess and Ben will be giving several cocktail and cooking demonstrations during February and March. Visit woodandsalt.com for event details, ordering information and retail locations.

“He has a science background and can really nerd out on that stuff, so he’s very technical and step-by-step in his approach to cooking,” Jess says of her brother. “Me, I’m more experimental and into the experience of cooking and sharing it. It definitely creates a nice balance between the two of us.”

To find some of these small-batch wonders around Kansas City, just look to these shops!