When I first sent out requests for favorite places in Kansas, my friend Kelley was one of the first to respond. Kelley knows me well and knew if she mentioned chocolate she would get my attention. And she did when she told me a “must go” place for the sweet confection was in her hometown of Emporia.
“The Sweet Granada is the best place around for chocolate,” was all she needed to say. I immediately checked my calendar for an opening to make a road trip to Emporia. And what a wonderful trip it was.
It had been years since I drove highway 99 from Wamego to Emporia and I quickly remembered its dips and rises as I wound along this narrow, two-lane highway. From Alma to Eskridge this road is particularly scenic, and is in fact part of the state’s Native Stone Scenic Byway. It not only passes through some of the most beautiful parts of the Flint Hills, but features many miles of historic stone fences. The only down side is that the road winds so much and is so hilly that only passengers can thoroughly enjoy all the views. But even solo it is a gorgeous drive that will force you to slow down and enjoy the journey.
Once in Emporia I was focused on trying some chocolate, but I found so much more than that along the main drag of Commercial Street. It had also been a number of years since I had been in Emporia and things had really changed – for the better. During my last visit it was difficult to find a place to eat along Commercial Street, but that is certainly not the case today. There are any number of sandwich shops, pizza places, local eateries and diners, and of course, The Sweet Granada, from which to choose now. Emporia appears to be a city in renaissance mode and it is looking and feeling alive and vibrant.
Part of that rebirth may be due to the beautiful renovation of the Granada Theatre, nicely sandwiched between The Sweet Granada and the Granada Coffee Company. The theatre, on the National Register of Historic Places, first opened on October 3, 1929 and was designed by Boller Brothers, nationally known theatre designers with offices in Kansas City and Los Angeles. The original cost of the theater was $350,000 and it seated 1,400, making it one of the largest theatres in Kansas at the time.
But, like with many grand old theatres, the 1960’s and 70’s were difficult decades and the theatre fell into disrepair, closing its doors in 1982. In 1994, with the theatre facing demolition, a group of businessmen and concerned citizens came together to save the Spanish Colonial Revival inspired theatre. A three-year capital-campaign, completed in December 2003, raised $2.6 million for renovation and restoration of the interior of the theatre and today it stands, beautifully restored, as a multi-purpose facility for the arts, businesses and community.
The restoration was painstaking with all the colors, tiles and moldings as close to an original match as possible. Even the ceiling was hand stenciled by local artists to its previous grandeur. It has truly been returned to its 1929 elegance and is now home to movies, live theater and special events.
One door south of the theatre was the reason I was in Emporia in the first place — The Sweet Granada, which was opened in November 2004 by mother and daughter team, Toni Bowling and Kim Redeker. The specialty sweet shop features some signature treats, such as the Martha Washington, a soft centered maraschino cherry candy with coconut and walnuts, hand-dipped in dark chocolate. For coffee lovers another specialty is the Hamilton with Espresso ganache and caramel inside white chocolate topped with almonds.
I highly recommend the Pop-Choc, fresh popcorn drizzled with milk and white chocolate. In fact, I suggest you get several bags of this because one will simply not be enough. Feel free to tell yourself you’re buying them as gifts, but don’t be dismayed when you can’t help but eat them all yourself! Oh, and they tell me they will ship any of their products anywhere!
On the north side of the Granada Theatre is the Granada Coffee Company, voted Best Coffee of the Flint Hills from 2004 through 2010. You can’t argue with that and in addition to specialty coffee and tea drinks, the shop features muffins and light lunch fare, along with comfy chairs and sofas that welcome a long linger over friendly conversation.
Another fun stop along this block of Commercial Street is the new home of the Emporia Arts Council. The council has as its mission to Educate, Advocate and Celebrate the arts, and the new facility houses a gallery as well as classroom and performance spaces dedicated to doing just that. The gallery features Emporia and other Kansas artists’ works. The art, all for sale, features blown glass, sculpture, pottery, photography, paintings, jewelry and a variety of other media. This is a great place to find unique original art at great prices.
So, from traveling along one of the state’s finest scenic byways to chocolate, coffee, a beautifully restored historical theatre and original art by some of Kansas’s best artisans, I have to say, this was one Granada day!
The Granada Theatre, 807 Commercial St., http://www.egtks.com
The Sweet Granada, 805 Commercial St., http://www.sweetgranada.com
Granada Coffee Company, 809 Commercial St., http://www.granadacoffee.com
Emporia Arts Council, 815 Commercial St., http://www.emporiaksarts.org
Highway 99, from Wamego to Emporia. Part of Kansas Native Stone Scenic Byway from Alma to Eskridge. http://www.ksbyways.org