Professional kitchen to serve up more possibilities for Joplin area

By Ann Leach

If you’ve visited the Empire Market in the past 4 years, you know there’s a lot of goodness going on. From local farmers selling fresh produce to artisan gifts, community gardens and special events, the Empire Market, a program of the Joplin Downtown Alliance, is delivering fresh foods and community connections focused on all things local.

If you’ve visited the Empire Market in the past 4 years, you know there’s a lot of goodness going on. From local farmers selling fresh produce to artisan gifts, community gardens and special events, the Empire Market, a program of the Joplin Downtown Alliance, is delivering fresh foods and community connections focused on all things local.

“New farmers markets are difficult to sustain, but we are about to celebrate our fourth birthday!,” said Joplin Downtown Alliance Executive Director Lori Haun. “We look forward to expanding our programming options with the debut of a commercial kitchen, and we are always adding new vendors and encouraging existing vendors to create new offerings.”

The kitchen will honor the memory of downtown Joplin’s long-time business owners Bunny and Jane Newton. Donations in memory of the couple are being sought, and once that giving level reaches its $50,000 goal, son and daughter-in-law Brian and Peggy Newton will determine the kitchen’s name. Haun is eager to celebrate the roles Bunny and Jane Newton played in downtown’s growth. 

“The Newton family has been anchors for Downtown Joplin, both in business and in community leadership,” she said. “There were many years that downtown was not the place to be. Bunny and Jane not only maintained a legacy business during that time, but they chose to make their home downtown. By providing consistency and excellent product and service, the Newtons led by example as downtown has begun to revitalize and grow again into a regional destination.” 

The commercial kitchen will benefit the community in a number of ways, including exploring value-added products that can be additional income streams for the grower. For example, if a farmer has a lot of leftover tomatoes at the end of the week, the commercial kitchen can help them preserve those as salsa. The products can be sold at a later date and continue to provide revenue to the farm. “The facility will also be available for prepared food vendors to perfect their menu and offerings to sell during the market or through curbside preorder or at special events,” Haun said. “And, this will hopefully be a stepping stone for potential downtown restauranteurs.”

The kitchen will also provide an expansion of the Kids Meal Program that offers free kids’ meals during market hours, as well as educational programming. “We’re anticipating doubling the number of meals offered and being able to expand the menu options to include hot foods and other items that require a commercial kitchen,” Haun said. “Cooking and food education classes for all ages are being planned as is partnering with master gardeners in the community gardens to bring Empire Market-grown products to the kitchen so attendees can understand the entire process of growing and preparing healthy foods. The facility will also be better equipped to handle large events and activities, which can include catering and meals.

“And, of course, the availability of our kids’ meals will work to help combat food insecurity in the children of Joplin.” 

The food insecurities concerns facing the country over the next few years are of local concern to market vendors, as well. But, Haun is optimistic Joplin can combat the issue with consistent support of local growers. 

“Local food systems are some of the most resilient in the nation,” she said. “The fewer miles your food has to travel to you, the less it can be disrupted by national or worldwide events. On average, items purchased at the market have traveled about nine miles to get to you. That said, consistent consumer support is critical to keeping small farmers (and other businesses) in operation. Rising fertilizer and gasoline prices will affect all our growers in some capacity. So now, more than ever, it’s important to support the things you want to see survive!” 

The market audience includes people of all ages and income levels. Demonstrations, kids’ programming, live music and ready-to-eat food and drinks draw in visitors, and the market offers SNAP processing and Double Up Food Bucks, so it’s a natural fit for those with a limited income. 

Other upcoming events for Empire Market include the Bees and Blossoms Spring Market, the Fourth Birthday Bash, the first Summer Solstice Night Market since 2019, free adult gardening classes and the launch of the Market Sprouts Kids’ Club. Readers can learn more by visiting or calling 417.501.9649. The Empire Market is located at 931 East 4th Street in Joplin and is open every Saturday from 10 am-2 pm and for special events and activities at other times.

A Remembrance of Vision, Service and Love for Downtown Joplin

A committed-to-Joplin resident and loyal downtown advocate, Bunny Newton was convinced the heart of a city was its downtown. His son, Brian Newton, recalled, “We opened a second Newton’s in the center court of Northpark Mall back in 1972. It was a beautiful store, but after it was broken into and robbed in 1977, we closed it. Dad always wanted to be downtown; it was his true love.”

Bunny and Jane Newton’s legacy of love will live on posthumously when the new industrial kitchen, with financial gifts for the kitchen given in their honor, is installed at Empire Market. This facility will enhance the Market space and assure, among other things, the children’s meal program will continue to grow.

“My dad lived to eat,” Brian Newton said. “And my mom was an incredible cook, so it worked out well for both of them.” Newton said his parents would be honored and humbled to know the Empire Market kitchen will honor their memory. “They put so much effort into this city as a whole,” Brian said. “They would be honored to be recognized in such a meaningful way and to help people in need while also providing a space for someone’s success to grow.”

Daughter-in-law Peggy Newton first met the family when she interviewed for, and received, a store position 28 years ago. “I was a tad intimidated and in awe of both of them,” she said about Bunny and Jane. “They were two of the classiest people I’ve been blessed to know. Mr. Newton was always a genuine gentleman and taught me a lot. And Jane welcomed me with open arms and immediately became a mentor.”

The Newtons mentored many over the years, and Bunny’s focus was always on customer service. His advice rings on in Brian’s ears as he recalled his father telling him, “Go the extra mile. The customer is usually not right, but in our store, they are always right.”

Together Brian and Peggy Newton are looking forward to continuing the long legacy of love for downtown. “I’m proud of our diverse group of merchants in the downtown area,” Peggy said. “We all offer unique services and products, and I think if we stay focused on restoring what we have downtown and continue providing unique services for our community, then our downtown thriving will be full speed ahead.”

“I’m proud of our longevity and staying power in downtown,” Brian said. “We wouldn’t want to be anywhere else. We need to continue the focus on saving our old structures and work on the seriousness of the homeless in this area. I want to keep seeing the revitalization of the heart of our city.”