Baker junior, KU grad student offer Baker students after-hours option with Late Nite cafe
photo by: Elvyn Jones
The skills Dylan Kort acquired during six years working at Waffle House were on display Thursday evening at Late Nite, an after-hours restaurant operating out of a bakery and sandwich shop in downtown Baldwin City.
The Baker University junior cranked out order after order of pancakes, waffles, French toast, bacon and sausage, racing between the grill and storeroom before filling another plate to deliver to a customer. Kort, a communication studies major, slowed only to get the next order sent from a front-counter computer manned by his business partner Will Duncan.
Kort and Duncan serve customers out of Homestead Kitchen and Bakery, at 719 Eighth St., from 9 p.m. to midnight, Sunday through Thursday. Kort negotiated the lease with Homestead owner Lori Gardner after he noticed that the restaurant, located a block south of Baker’s main entrance, closed at 6 p.m. on weekdays and 2 p.m. on Sunday. Kort saw an opportunity to realize his ambition of owning his own restaurant.
“Dylan came to me last fall with a plan to use my restaurant as a place where Baker could go to study and get something to eat late in the evening, so they don’t have to drive to Lawrence,” Gardner said. “There’s nothing open in Baldwin City after 9 p.m.”
Gardner opened Homestead three years ago, and it soon became a community favorite with its morning menu of homemade baked goods and lunch offerings of a variety of soups, sandwiches, wraps and tacos.
Although the idea of giving Baker students a late-night eatery and gathering place appealed to Gardner, she initially turned Kort down.
Kort said he understood. He approached Gardner as she was busy planning for the Maple Leaf Festival weekend, which brings an estimated 30,000 people to downtown Baldwin City. But he didn’t take Gardner’s “no” for a final answer. He and Duncan — an alumnus and adjunct professor of Baker who is currently working on a doctorate in economics at the University of Kansas — refined their business plan and developed a market analysis with demographics of potential customers.
After Maple Leaf, Kort successfully brought Gardner an improved plan.
“They made it hard to say no,” Gardner said.
The agreement has Kort and Duncan leasing Gardner’s restaurant for their Late Nite cafe. They also agreed to sell Gardner’s homemade baked goods and ice cream.
“It’s worked out very well,” Gardner said. “The place is spotless when they leave every night.”
Kort said his Waffle House experience influenced the Late Nite menu. It is a breakfast and dessert menu geared to the taste of his target customers.
“I chose it because it’s quick, it’s easy and it’s cheap,” he said. “We have pancakes, French toast, bacon and sausage. Everything a student would like.”
Since it opened on Feb. 5, Late Nite has proven successful, said Duncan, who in charge of the business’ bookkeeping.
“We’ve been open five weeks, and each week we’ve seen new customers,” he said. “As you may know, restaurant businesses have a difficult time turning a profit. Late Nite is in a pretty special position. As of Thursday, we are breaking even. We have covered our startup and equipment costs.”
Late Nite was able to do that and hire two part-time employee to run the counter and a cook trainee, Duncan said.
After Thursday, the partners will put Late Nite under wraps for a time. They had planned to close for Baker’s one-week spring break, which started last weekend. But with Baker’s decision to switch to online classes for at least the two weeks after the break because of the COVID-19 pandemic, they now will suspend operations until at least April 6.
“We will start back up when Baker resumes on-campus classes,” Kort said. “We do have more customers than just Baker students with more than 200 unique customers in our data base. But Baker remains our primary customer base.”
Whatever happens with the remainder of the spring semester, Late Nite will be back with the start of the Baker 2020-2021 school year, Duncan and Kort said. That will also be the year Kort graduates from Baker and Duncan finishes his doctorate.
The partners are looking to grow their business.
“The business plan is to continue in Baldwin after graduation,” Kort said. “We started to think something like Late Nite doesn’t exist in a lot of communities. We’re looking for other small college towns in Kansas and elsewhere with no late night options for students where we can franchise Late Nite.”