Above: Sara Colvin (left) and Nan Lisher | Download this photo
Kansas Profile – Now That’s Rural: Nan Lisher, Elsie Grace’s
Sept. 15, 2021
By Ron Wilson, director of the Huck Boyd National Institute for Rural Development at Kansas State University
“Bake the world a better place.” Not just “Make the world a better place,” but “Bake the world a better place.”
That sounds like a baker’s motto, and it would certainly apply to this bakery and gift shop in rural Kansas.
Nan Lisher is owner and founder of Elsie Grace’s Gift Shoppe and Bakery in Frankfort. As a kid, Nan was close to her grandmother, Elsie Grace Tilley. “She taught me a lot about baking and cooking,” Nan said. Nan and her cousin Sara even dreamed of running a restaurant someday.
That dream came true when Nan opened Nan’s Cooking Nook in Frankfort, with Sara’s help. They served homemade food. Their pies were especially popular. The restaurant operated until 1992.
Then Nan started formulating dry mixes for her snack dips, soups and pies. She formed a company to market these products and named it in honor of her grandmother, Elsie Grace’s. Nan and Sara marketed the dry mixes across northeast Kansas.
In downtown Frankfort, an older lady operated a small gift shop and fudge factory. One day in 1999, Nan stopped in to visit the lady and said, “If you ever want to sell this place, keep me in mind.” One month later, Nan owned the store. Talk about good timing.
Elsie Grace’s Gift Shoppe and Bakery now operates in that location, with Nan and her cousin Sara Colvin. The store offers a wide variety of gifts plus homemade pies, hot lunch meals and fudge. “There’s been fudge produced at this corner of town for 32 years,” Nan said.
Nan and Sara brought one of their homemade pies with them when they consulted with the director of the Small Business Development Center at the time. “He told us the pie was delicious but he said, ‘Nobody makes pies anymore.’” However, he helped with their business plan and promotion. “He was very beneficial, but I still laugh about that because I use that pie mix every day of the week,” Nan said.
“I love to bake and I love to cook,” she added. Her mother helped in the store and her husband would help open up in the mornings. “He called this my hobby.” That would change in a tragic instant.
April 7, 2002. Nan and her husband and her mom and dad were driving to Topeka for her grandson’s fourth birthday party. Near Frankfort, their car was hit by a drunk driver. Nan’s husband and her mother were killed instantly. Nan and her father were critically injured but survived.
“Without the town of Frankfort, I would never have made it,” Nan said. “The people in Frankfort wrapped their arms around us.” The community mobilized to help, with fundraisers and support.
“You have choices in life,” Nan said. “You can give up or you can stand on your feet.” With support from the community, Nan chose to continue Elsie Grace’s after her recovery. “I threw myself into the business after the accident,” Nan said. She later remarried.
Today, Elsie Grace’s offers products online as well as in the store at Frankfort. The business has expanded to the building next door. Upstairs apartments in the building are available for rent.
Nan and Sara created the 320-page Elsie Grace’s Family and Friends Cookbook. At the gift shop and bakery, hot homemade meals are served at lunch on weekdays. The dry mixes for pies, soups, pancakes, cookies and dips are marketed across the nation.
“We’ve shipped to most states and as far away as Germany,” Nan said. That’s an impressive record for a business based in the rural community of Frankfort, population 726 people. Now, that’s rural.
“Cooking is my therapy,” she said. “I love to make people happy with food.”
For more information, go to www.elsiegraces1.com.
“Bake the world a better place.” That is a good way to describe what happens at Elsie Grace’s Gift Shoppe and Bakery. We commend Nan Lisher and Sara Colvin at Elsie Grace’s for making a difference with a creative gift selection and delicious food. They are baking the world better, one pie at a time.
Audio and text files of Kansas Profiles are available at http://www.kansasprofile.com. For more information about the Huck Boyd Institute, interested persons can visit http://www.huckboydinstitute.org.