Just more than a year ago, a new Overbrook restaurant was a long-abandoned farmhouse with its roof caving in. But with lots of hard work and a great team surrounding them, Shantel Grace and Rozz Petrozz, the founders of Saltwell Farm Kitchen, opened to the public with one simple request: Come as you are.
Co-owners Grace and Petrozz — also maître d’ and head chef, respectively — are downtown Lawrence restaurateurs who have made waves with their work at Ramen Bowls and Luckyberry.
With their latest venture, they’ve turned their sights toward small-town Overbrook, southwest of Lawrence. The duo has breathed new life into the historic McKinzie farmstead and turned it into a rustic fine dining experience … and their own home.
Saltwell opened in the summer of 2021 as a boutique catering business. Now the farm-restaurant, located a few miles southwest of Clinton Lake, is a model for reimagining hospitality, taking the focus away from turning tables and instead celebrating local farmers, wild native foraging, and the very people we’re sharing our table with.
“We’ll usually have a table full of men in tuxes right next to a table full of farmers from down the road wearing overalls. And everything is perfect, because everyone is here, exactly as they are,” Grace says.
Looking at the candlelit tables across the eclectic dining room, you might see groups of Bohemian hippies sipping wine, military officials celebrating retirement, and even Bill Self enjoying a night out after winning the NCAA National Championship.
But everyone is greeted the same: with a charcuterie display and Spanish cava aperitif. Everyone dines on a multi-course tasting menu, with plates such as marigold-black pepper ravioli and heirloom purple mashed potatoes blanketed by pan-seared ribeye. They’re all paired with wine, couture cocktails, or zero-proof imbibements.
Restoring and preserving the farmstead
To get Saltwell to this point, Grace and Petrozz put in work. They spent months seeking to restore and preserve the neglected farmhouse by hand: painting, pulling off walls, and discarding 6-foot snake skins they found in the ceiling.
The whole way through, they were committed to their vision of a thriving farm-restaurant, exactly what Saltwell is now. And they kept seeing little signs of serendipity everywhere.
“We used to go foraging all the time near the Kansas River. And when we found this property, we were walking around in the untamed grass and saw everything we’d been foraging for years, all right here: onions, blackberries, wild grapes, cattails, wildflowers,” Petrozz says.
Although they haven’t fully restored the barn on their property yet, that’s a goal for these two dreamers. The barn, built in the 1850s and held up with tree trunks, used to feature an artesian well where neighbors would come around and work and get their water. Grace and Petrozz want to honor this memory, as they envision making the barn a community gathering space for foraging classes, on-site butchering classes, and seed swaps.
But for now, they’re just enjoying the open landscapes and calling the farmhouse their home. This concept was inspired by Kate Frick, the founder of the Myers Hotel Bar in Tonganoxie and now the creative mastermind behind Saltwell’s bar. Having a night out (but in someone else’s home) made an impact on both Grace and Petrozz.
“Saltwell wouldn’t exist without Myers Hotel Bar,” Grace says. “Kate is the one that gave permission to say, ‘I’m going to open an eclectic bar, it’s going to be incredible, and it’s my home. I literally live upstairs.’”
Everything has a story
At Saltwell, the tableware is just as intriguing as the food itself. The dining room is curated with local wax candles, quirky artwork, antique teacups, and porcelain creamers.
Grace and Petrozz sourced everything from neighbors’ yard sales and their own family heirlooms. This was out of necessity (even though they get the added benefit of the charm that comes from everything having a story behind it). The goal? To eliminate the barriers of capital to opening a restaurant. Many restaurants require a buildout cost of $300,000 or more. So Grace and Petrozz looked for the things they could get for free … and now it’s paying off.
“All these things have become conversation pieces, and it’s truly who we are. Nothing feels blank and generic and bleached out, and that’s fun for us. You wouldn’t expect guests to care about this photo or that old coffee grinder, but they do,” Grace says.
Another thing they didn’t expect? The overwhelming support they’ve received from their neighbors. Many of the details at Saltwell come from people who live just down the road. From eggs to strawberries to literal puppies, the gifts just keep coming. It’s a gesture of how much their community enjoys seeing them put love back into a forgotten place.
“They’ve been really excited to see something new, something different. I love our neighbors. Actually, there’s one right there,” Petrozz said, stopping the interview to wave out the window. “That’s Mr. Miles. His wife makes the quilts that we sell in our gift shop.”
“We live in such a small town of 800 people now. To come back to a rural area like this reminds me that, political differences and religious backgrounds aside, we all just love each other. We just support each other. That’s been one of the most fulfilling things for me,” Grace says.
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Jordan Winter (she/her), a contributor to The Lawrence Times, is a 2019 KU grad with degrees in journalism and political science.