“We met at the Sandwich Shoppe. She worked at the courthouse and she would come to lunch two or three times a week and I would always ask my employees, ‘Who is this girl?’ Then we started talking and stuff. I’m 10 years older than her, but it works. I just knew when she walked in that I loved her. Food kind of brought us together. It seems that everything with us is food related.
Kasie actually proposed to me first. She made me dinner and she proposed to me. That’s why I love our marriage and our relationship because it doesn’t have to be the plain Jane stuff. I think it’s awesome that she proposed to me. Then a couple of weeks later I planned a trip to Weston with the idea of proposing to her, and planned a reservation at a restaurant that we’ve been to a few times there. It’s a funny story. We were staying at a bed and breakfast there and the restaurant called me on the day of the reservation and told me that a car had hit their power source and there was no power. This was in July so it was really hot. So they said that we could still go and sit out on the patio. And I’m like, ‘I need to keep this reservation. You don’t understand.’ So we still went. I went inside and told the chefs there to put the ring in the dessert and they’re like, ‘No wonder you didn’t want to cancel the reservation!’ It was just awesome.
We’re both busy and have high goals, her with law school and me with the restaurant, but we never forget about our marriage. A lot of people put their marriage on the back-burner. I’ve told her from day one that if this restaurant ever started tearing us apart, I’m out of here. I would rather have her in my life than this restaurant. I love her to death and I love the restaurant, but family is more important. I wouldn’t even be doing this if it wasn’t for her.”
“What’s one piece of advice that you would give the people reading this?”
“Never give up. If you really want to do something, just do it. Go out of your comfort zone a little bit. Try new things. Here I try to push the envelope further and further. Every month we change the menu to get people to get out of their comfort zone, to try new things because there’s so much good food out there. And that’s just like life. I don’t want to just be the guy that goes to work and does the same thing for 40 years.
I want to be a chef. I hate stress, but I also like it because it means that I care. I would tell people to never give up and do what they want to do in life, whether that’s being a chef, being a singer, being a lawyer, just go do it. Even if in a year this thing fails, it won’t upset me because at least I know that I tried doing it. But if I had never tried it, if I had just stayed at the Sandwich Shoppe in my little comfort zone, I would have never been happy with life. Life is so short as it is. You never know when you’re gone. I would just tell people to do what makes them happy. You just get one chance at life. There’s no practice run.”
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.”