Ad Astra Food and Drink welcomes new era of ownership

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By Ryann Brooks for the Emporia Gazette 
Nov 12, 2021 Updated Dec 16, 2021

STRONG CITY — The new era of Ad Astra Food and Drink is coming into bloom and owner Matt Flowers has a promising vision for its future.

Flowers, who owns The Gym in Emporia, purchased the popular restaurant last month from longtime partners Kris and Pat Larkin and Gwen and Brian Obermeyer.
 

“It was kind of a funny chain of events,” Flowers said of the purchase. “I had looked at the place out on the highway (Bulldogger’s Diner) and was very serious about leasing that — and it filled very quickly. I just know that wasn’t meant to be.”
 

A couple months later, he pulled up a web site to look at the old Montana Mike’s building, located at 3010 Eaglecrest Dr. That’s when he stumbled upon a listing he wasn’t expecting to see.

“I see Ad Astra on there and the price is pretty reasonable,” he said. Flowers showed the listing to Brandy Whittington, his general manager, who told him to call his realtor.

“I picked up the phone and called him and he said, ‘Dude, there must be something going on in the air because I was ready to pick up my phone and call you.’”

Flowers had already been working on expanding his business in Emporia. He’s renting the building located at 1528 W. Sixth Ave., which formerly housed Enterprise Rent-A-Car, and is working on turning it into a deli and meat market — conveniently located just across the lot from The Gym.
 

“I have had an abundance of beef, so this was just kind of a natural progression as far as that goes,” he said. “My goal was to become exclusive to some of the smaller restaurants in the area and provide them with the best quality meat possible. Now I’m hogging it all for us.”
 

Ad Astra first opened in 2012 under the ownership of Amanda Hague and Gwen Obermeyer. The restaurant quickly became a popular foodie destination in the Flint Hills. Hague left the restaurant in 2015 and Obermeyer reopened the restaurant with a new staff and business partners — husband Brian and the Larkins.
 

“We got involved [in 2015] because we had, I guess you could say, the same passion and shared vision for the community,” said Kris Larkin. “That’s kind of what united the four of us.”
 

Gwen Obermeyer said the quartet had several stipulations regarding a possible sale of the business. They weren’t selling out of any great need and the business wasn’t floundering. 
 

“We don’t want it to close, even if it’s for a short period,” she said. “Not like there’s this huge sense of authorship that this is our baby and you’ve got to take care of it and keep it exactly like it is, but we know that it’s been really good for the community.”
 

Pat Larkin pointed out that they had received several other offers for the restaurant. One offer even came in for a considerable amount over asking.

They turned it down.
 

“They wanted to shut it down, fire everybody and turn it into a cowboy bar. Next. That’s fine, maybe it’s kind of selfish,” he said.

But when Flowers came in understanding the vision behind Ad Astra, the Larkins and Obermeyers saw potential. The former owners meshed well with the next generation of ownership.
 

“We just kept having conversations and we all agreed, ‘we don’t have to sell if it feels wrong,’” Gwen Obermeyer said. “’If things are taking a bad turn, we’ll not close this.’ But it’s like wow, no matter what changes Matt makes, we love this place. You walk in and you still feel that — it’s a good place to be.”
 

Part of the atmosphere is due to the staff and Flowers has kept everyone on board, a decision he made after seeing how well everyone works together. Some changes have been made; Whittington has taken over as general manager with longtime manager Erica Tanner switching to front of house manager.

Tanner, who’s working at the restaurant for nine-and-a-half years said this is the “smoothest” transition she’s experienced.
 

“I’ve gotten along with Matt and Brandy really well and they’ve pretty much made things as seamless as possible for us,” she said. “They’ve let us work with them on menu changes so we can get our input in, which is nice. Ultimately, they’ve just been really easy to work with.”

Head chef Gabe VanDegrift agreed. “It’s gone a lot smoother than it could have gone, that’s for sure,” he said. “They have lots of new ideas that we’re trying out. At first I thought it would be overwhelming, but it’s gone very, very smooth.” Vandegrift said he’s excited for the chance to try out new dishes and spread his wings in the kitchen a bit. “The chance to do something different is amazing,” he said. “We’ve changed our menu several times over the years, but it’s kind of held the same foundation, the same basic stuff. Anyone who works in a kitchen knows you eventually, after years of making the same thing over and over and over again, you get burned out on it. Now with revamping the menu, I get to try new dishes that I didn’t have any experience in until now. I’m very excited.”
 

Some other changes include expanded hours, though that won’t happen until after the new year. Flowers is also making some cosmetic changes inside the building to freshen things up.
 

“Watch our Facebook page,” Flowers said. “Call us Thursday evening if you don’t have Facebook or something like that.”
 

Ad Astra Food and Drink is located at 318 Cottonwood St., Strong City. Call 620-273-8440 for more information or follow @adastra.food.drink on Facebook. A web site, www.adastrafoodanddrink.com, is in the process of being updated.