It seems that people are coming up with new ways to re-purpose familiar items all of the time. Finding alternative uses for shipping containers seemed to be a logical next step. A visit to North Kansas City, Missouri showed us how one group of ingenious people had built a space that combines function and frugality into one. The Iron District is a destination space comprised of locally-owned eateries, boutique shops, and entertainment options. All of this is wrapped up into shiny metal boxes.
Incubating New Businesses
The idea of creating a business park with shipping containers isn’t new to us. We first saw the business model at the Boxyard in Tulsa, Oklahoma. By arranging the various shops around a casual courtyard, you offer small businesses a way to be seen. This form of a business incubator is a transition platform to move to brick and mortar buildings. Food truck owners can gain a static site from which to offer their food. Boutique shops are able to go from online sales to a semi-permanent status. As each business matures, it will move along and open space for the next new company.
Heating Up the Iron District
On the day that we visited the Iron District, Kansas City was in the middle of a hot spell. Those of you in the middle of the country can understand how the heat and humidity can combine in an unfriendly fashion. The idea of dining outdoors was less than optimal, but we found that there is a lot of shade to be found. Of course, when you combine the heat, humidity, and pandemic together, it certainly cuts back on the crowds. Maybe that is why people were foregoing the entertainment activities provided by the businesses. No matter, we were determined to have an enjoyable lunch with our daughter, Amanda.
Since our main purpose was lunch, we decided that we wouldn’t let a little heat interfere. Our first activity was to check out all of the dining options available in the Iron District. After scouting them all out, the hard decision of picking one was next up. Crystal had spotted a dish at AvoBite that looked quite promising. The name hints at the idea this food container serves up plenty of avocado-based dishes. As she scanned the menu billboard, her tastes had settled on the El Mexicano. This mixed-up bowl of flavors starts with a base of cilantro lime rice. Toss in fajita-style chicken, Mexican street corn, a whole avocado, and feta cheese for a wild punch of flavors. The whole bowl is drizzled with a house-made Salsa Verde for an additional kick.
Amanda and I ended up having similar tastes, so we both chose dishes from Plantain District. You know that I can’t pass up an opportunity to sample a new Cuban Sandwich. The one at this container kitchen has some good flavor and plenty of protein. The sammie is well pressed and packed with all of the flavors one expects from an authentic version of the Latin delicacy. Toss in some plantain chips and fresh fruit for a complete flavor package.
Amanda got close to my order but veered off at the last second. Her selection of Mojo Cuban Chicken Nachos brought a big variety of flavors to the table. Starting with a base of plantain chips, they pile on marinated chicken, black beans, pickled red onion, Cotija cheese, green onions, cilantro, and even some jalapeno slices for added heat. This start-up has certainly developed some intriguing dishes that bring a ton of flavor.
The Iron District has plenty of delectable dishes to draw customers in, but that’s not all they offer. Scattered around the container businesses are some boxy boutiques. These offer a diversion from the food and games found around the courtyard. Most are focused on pleasing the female visitors to the Iron District. That will certainly ebb and flow as start-ups move in and out in the coming years. One of the first we spotted was 3&Me Boutique, which we recognize from their previous life on West 39th Street. They have been joined by Bombshell Boutique and Bohéme. All of these shops serve up unique pieces sure to satisfy that special someone.
A Sweet Surprise from Sno Buh
You know if they have ice cream around, we are sure to find out. Sure enough, Sno Buh is serving up some picture-perfect options. During our visit, they had two flavors of soft-serve running. Each could be dispensed in a cup or cone. With four cone flavors to choose from, who would want to stick to a plain old cup. The fun doesn’t stop at the cone, they also have a plethora of topping to make your treat one of a kind. Crystal certainly showed us up when she had them construct her a Key Lime Pie in a cone. I think the idea of sampling more options is enough to draw us back here time after time.
Taking It Outside
The Iron District certainly delivers on the idea of a new dining and shopping venture in Kansas City. It’s almost a given that others will see the success of this type of business model and want to replicate it in other regions of the metro. Finding alternative uses for everyday objects is truly a noble idea and adds a nice bit of novelty to this destination. Being a business incubator means that over time we will discover new start-ups moving in so that the landscape is ever-changing. This makes for a win-win for businesses and customers alike. Have you ever visited the Iron District?