This is Adam. Adam VanDonge and his wife Kasie are the owners of The White Linen, a fine-dining restaurant based on contemporary French and American cuisine in downtown Topeka. He grew up in a farm near Soldier, Kansas. He started the Sandwich Shoppe in Holton, Kansas in 2013. Less than a year later he remodeled the back of the Shoppe and started offering exclusive gourmet dinners in the Drum Room, which years later would sell out in mere seconds. This is his story.
“I grew up in a farm. My parents were divorced when I was around three years old. So at the farm it was me, my dad and two brothers. We raised cattle, we had pigs. He always put in a huge garden. We’ve always gone to my grandma’s house for dinner when we’d go feed cows over at her house. She had a little window that she looked out of and she always waved us in. We’d go in there and she’ll have a lot of food on there like goulash and mash potatoes and I was like ‘We don’t have a family of 40; it’s just four of us.’ I think seeing that at such a young age, I think it was embedded in me to love food. And I learned a lot by seeing the garden, to see how delicate tomatoes are and squash and zucchini and to have to pick them at the right time or they go bad, and seeing how peaches are when they’re canned. It was awesome.
My dad is my role model. I love my mom to death, but if I could be half the man my dad is, that’ll be perfect for me. He’s the guy that would drop everything if I asked him to come down and help with me something. He would do anything for us. He loves Kasie like if she was his own daughter. He’s hardworking and cares about everybody but himself. When I first told him about this restaurant idea he wasn’t too sure about it, and told me that it was a huge risk, ‘What if it don’t go right’ he said. I just told him, ‘When you buy cattle at a sale barn that’s a risk. They might have some type of disease, or something you don’t know about.’ I think me saying that opened his eyes, that and that life in general is a risk. So I told him that I was going to take this risk because I’d rather go my whole life knowing that I tried it and I failed, than never trying it all.
He came down to eat our first soft opening and he called me the next day and it was awesome. He doesn’t show emotion a lot, but he was just like ‘I’m so proud of you. You have an awesome place.’ That meant the most to me, hearing my father say how proud he was of me.
And so far it’s been going awesome with the restaurant. I love it, but it’s stressful. It’s been hard on me a lot because it takes time away from my wife and our two little kids, so I have to sacrifice my time with them to be here. Any chef out there can tell you how hard it is to run a restaurant. We set some high goals for ourselves here. I’m talking Michelin Stars and James Beard awards. I’m hard on my staff and I have high standards because although I started this thing, they’re the face of my restaurant. So, I’m always hard on them to look their best and treat our guests with the utmost respect because we’re trying to do something special here.”