Depot Theater Expands Culinary Offerings
by Mark Vierthaler
The Depot Theater Company has spent the past three decades establishing itself as one of the premiere dinner theaters in the Midwest. Now they're looking to grow.
With it's two newest chefs behind the burners in the kitchen, the Depot Theater Company is looking towards becoming a destination spot for weddings, meetings, or any other gathering that wants a historic background and gourmet food.
After spending time at North Central Kansas Technical College's culinary program in Hays, Dodge City native Nichole Webb and Miltonvale native Zach Swenson headed down to Orlando, Fla. to continue their studies.
The two returned to Dodge City back in April 2013 to help with the theater's spring production. They ended up staying.
"It's been great," Webb said. "By having our own kitchen, we've been given the leeway to kind of cook what we want."
The "day-to-day" of the Depot kitchen consists mainly of planning, cooking, and tweaking the meals for upcoming theater productions. In an effort to plan ahead, Webb and Swenson have started outlaying each season's menu before the curtain even rises on the first production.
On average, the kitchen staff of five handles over 300 pounds of meat per show, not including all the vegetables, breads, and desserts that pass through the doors onto the patrons' plates.
Two shows into the season, the young chefs are already getting rave reviews. However, that doesn't mean that they're happy to coast along.
"We'd really like to widen people's palates here," Swenson said. "It's traditionally a meat and potatoes town, but we're hoping we can expose them to some subtle twists to that no-fail combination."
At the start of each season, Swenson and Webb sit down with theater staff to learn about the shows that are planned for the upcoming season. What era does it take place in? What country? What time of the year is the theater producing the show? These are all factors that go into the final decision on how to create the menu.
"We look at things like traditional meals from the area," Swenson said. "Then, like for the Christmas show where we made bread pudding, we try to find more traditional dishes that maybe you won't get elsewhere in western Kansas."
And while the culinary options are limited during production dates (everyone who attends the show receives the same plated dish, delivered by the actors), Swenson and Webb stressed that they're not held back for hosted events.
"We can really offer just about anything a person could want," said Webb. "We've done everything from full, multi-course plated meals to nothing but desserts, to hors d'oeuvres and cheeses."
The Depot is able to book parties, meetings, and celebrations during any day of the week, and most of the time around preexisting events.
Webb said there's no current set menu for patrons to choose from if they'd like to utilize the catering services.
"Really, just tell us what you want and we can probably do it," she said.
While both have experience in the kitchen as full-blown chefs, both Swenson and Webb say that their true passion lays in baking. It only makes sense, then, that the pair operates a freelance baking service on the side called Crumbs Bakery.
"Right now it's more of an on-call basis," Webb said. "We have a phone number and a Facebook page. There's no real website or physical storefront to speak of. For now, at least."
Much like their work in the kitchen at the theater, Swenson and Webb keep their options open when it comes to their baking business.
"We do mostly cupcakes, cookies, sweets, things like that," Swenson said. "But, because we don't have a storefront, there's no real 'set' menu. We'll make whatever people want!"