KINCAID — The Home Plate Café, in the old elementary school at the north end of Kincaid’s miniature downtown, has already become a destination known for good food. Beginning this spring, however, it hopes to call itself the museum restaurant for one of the country’s premier collections of sports trading cards and memorabilia, some dating back to the 1880s.
Years ago, when Darrin Daugherty was a student at Kincaid Elementary school, this thought probably never crossed his mind: one day I’ll own this place. I’ll have a family diner and I’ll put it in the cafeteria. I’ll build a baseball card museum and put it in the band room.
Rhonda Lorenz-Harris was born in Connecticut, raised in California, “but I’ve lived all over. I’ve been in every state but Alaska.” She was an over-the-road trucker as a young married woman, mostly on the West Coast, a career which lasted until she became “too far pregnant to climb into the sleeper.” Eventually she landed in Wisconsin, near Eau Claire, where she owned and operated a large restaurant — “I had 10 cooks and 25 waitresses” — until one day, years later, she decided to pack up her car and leave, and drove south with no fixed point in mind. “Pretty soon I just stopped the car in Ottawa, Kansas, decided I was tired of driving.”
Like his father and grandfather, Daugherty grew up in Kincaid. It was his dad, in fact, who inspired Daugherty’s affection for baseball cards when, in 1976, he presented his son with his first pack of Topps. His passion for the sport, and for sports cards and memorabilia, has never flagged. And while he’s wise to the fact that a portion of the general public regards trading cards as, at best, a frivolous hobby, Daugherty is eloquent in the defense of his avocation.
“I know that when people think of trading cards, they think of garage sales.” Not Daugherty: “I see cards as a piece of history…. I’m trying to give a history of the cards and, in so doing, a history of the era. They are a demonstration of how our society has changed. For example, it’s February,” — Black History Month — “I’d like to be able to do something with the Negro League cards.”
Not long after landing in Ottawa in 2007, Rhonda Lorenz boarded a shuttle bus to a local casino and found herself seated across from the man who would become her next husband, Darrel Harris. Harris was from Kincaid and, after the two wed, Rhonda accompanied him back to his place in Anderson County. She wasn’t in Kincaid long before her reputation as a cook penetrated the little town of about 100.
“I started cooking when I was nine, because my mother was a terrible cook. And then, later on, with Darrel working on the pipeline, we traveled a lot. So I cooked for all of the guys out there.”
Darrel Harris died in the summer of 2013, at aged 59, but his wife remained in Kincaid. “We’d been married for, well, I guess since ’09. Not long enough.
“But after he passed away, there were a lot of people in town who kept asking me if I’d open a restaurant, because there had been a ton of people that ate at my house. I told them I wasn’t ready yet. And then Darrin Daugherty called me and asked if I’d be willing to go into partnership with him. So I said, ‘Yeah, I guess I’m ready now.’”
Since September Lorenz-Harris has overseen the diner’s menu of down-home American fare — the chicken fried steak and Philly sandwich are top items — refreshing the list each weekday with specials of her own devising. Tater tot casserole, followed by cherry delight. Lasagna, garlic bread, lemon bars, iced tea.
“Last week somebody called me and asked me if I could make some spaghetti soup again. ‘Spaghetti soup? Sure!’”
She has a waitress who pitches in during the busiest hours, but Lorenz-Harris works the kitchen every day, even on Mondays, when the café is closed.
Lorenz-Harris, whose passion for cooking is as deep-seated as Daugherty’s for baseball, has been devoting long hours every day since September to a restaurant that isn’t especially profitable. Is she optimistic about its future? “Oh, we’ll last for sure. I’m too stubborn not to. Anyway, what else am I going to do?”
According to Daugherty, there are only a handful of places in the country that have trading card museums, the Metropolitan Museum of Art in New York among them. He would like for the Kincaid gallery to reach — especially given his concentration on Kansas and Missouri sports history — a level of regional renown such that individuals and families would plan day trips to the tiny town off Highway 31.
Daugherty also purchased the town’s historic Seventh Day Adventist Church and has plans for an indoor/outdoor flea market, which will operate out of the row of empty classrooms rooms inside the old Crest East building.
Daugherty, a retired major with the Kansas National Guard who continues to do work as a military contractor in Leavenworth, has “invested [his] retirement” in Kincaid. “I want to return something to my community; I want to invest in its future.”
Daugherty knows the odds are long and that there are skeptics — “but only because they’ve seen things around here fail before. Our success is going to be determined by how we do things with the entire property.
“I’m excited,” he said, with the confidence of a man accustomed to looking into the supposed deadwood of the past — whether it’s in the shape of an old baseball card or an abandoned town — and finding in it the outlines of a bright future.
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