A small Kansas town not too far from Wichita has just added a craft brewery, owned by two women who grew up there.
And so far, the response to Ladybird Brewing — which officially opened on Nov. 13 in an old gas station building in downtown Winfield — has been more enthusiastic than the owners anticipated. In fact, their Thanksgiving Saturday traffic, which saw people lined up for seats long before the doors opened, has them thinking they may need to expand their staff.
The brewery is owned and run by married couple Kaydee and Laura Riggs-Johnson, both Winfield natives, both with other full-time jobs. Kaydee, a Southwestern College graduate, now works as the vice president of marketing and communication for the school. Laura is an attorney at Herlocker, Roberts & Herlocker law firm in Winfield.
Because both women love their full-time jobs and don’t want to give them up, the brewery is for now a side passion project, and it’s open only on Saturdays from 1 to 11 p.m. They’ll add Sunday hours soon, and the ultimate goal is to open the brewery Thursdays through Sundays.
And judging by demand so far, that plan might have to be accelerated, Kaydee said. The brewery was packed on Saturday both with locals and with people who made the drive from Wichita.
“After this weekend, we knew... We’re going to have to hire more people,” she said with a laugh.
The idea to open Ladybird has been brewing for years, Kaydee said. Her roommate and best friend at Southwestern was from Fort Collins, Colorado, and one Thanksgiving, Kaydee went home with her. They visited several breweries during that trip, Kaydee said, and although she wasn’t yet old enough to drink, she instantly felt drawn to craft beer culture.
“Just hanging out in those spaces and having awareness that beer was so much more than just American light lagers, it was eye opening,” she said. “I was fascinated by the community in those spaces. It was a very romantic thing to me.”
After they turned 21, Kaydee and her roommate became obsessed with sampling beers that the roommate would bring back from Fort Collins. Those beers were nothing like what Kaydee had ever had in Winfield, and a desire to learn how to make her own beer took root.
In 2013, she started dating Laura, who at the time was working as a winemaker at Wheat State Wine Co. in Winfield. Laura became interested in fermentation science and also harbored her own wish to make craft beer. The couple started investing in home brew kits.
“I think from the very beginning, in our minds we thought we would eventually want to open a brewery in Winfield,” Kaydee said. “We had aspirations from the very onset.”
About six years ago, they got serious about the idea, and both knew they wanted to invest in their hometown. They started looking for property, and after much negotiation bought the old gas station building, which they liked because it was on the more historic end of Main Street — right across the street from the popular Shindigs Bar & Grill — and because it already had an awning that would be perfect for covered patio seating.
The 1953 building was small — with just 1,600 square feet inside — and was made of cinder blocks, but the couple knew they could do something with it. About a year and a half ago, they gutted the space, adding lots of windows and new restrooms. Throughout the pandemic, when Winfield residents were bored and restless, they’d drive by and see the women at work, and curiosity began to grow.
With help from the owners of Walnut River Brewing in El Dorado, the Riggs-Johnsons were able to get a good deal on the brewery equipment left behind when Hungry Heart, which operated from 2014 to 2017 at 222 S. Commerce in Wichita, went out of business. They moved it in and got to brewing.
‘This is what we love’
Ladybird’s tap room opened with seating inside for 32 and for another 60 outside, where the owners have installed heat lamps and picnic tables. Over the winter, they hope to fence off part of their spacious back lot, add some gravel and create a beer garden that can also be used for private events.
They have eight taps inside, and at the moment, they have four of their own beers on tap along with a guest beer from Fort Collins and a cider from Wichita’s White Crow Cider Company. As production increases, they hope to fill six of those taps with their own beers.
So far, their blonde and golden ales have been most popular with customers, though they also make a nitro dry stout, a pale ale, a West Coast IPA and a fruited saison with pomegranate and hibiscus. (“It’s pink, and it’s a beautiful beer,” Kaydee said.)
Ladybird has a few snacks on hand, like sunflower seeds and pretzels, but the owners don’t plan to serve food. They do allow people to bring in their own food, though, and even keep menus from local restaurants on hand.
The couple is proud to be the only people “on the other side of prohibition” to open a brewery in Winfield. There was at least one brewer based there pre-prohibition, their research revealed, and he cellared his beer in caves near the Walnut River.
They’re also proud to operate a woman-owned business, and even though there are more male than female brewers, there have been many female brewers throughout history, Kaydee said.
“I think Laura and I both feel proud to carry on the tradition in that way,” Kaydee said. “But it’s not because we’re trying to prove anything. This is what we love.”
Where: 523 Main, Winfield (42 miles southeast of Wichita)
Hours: For now, 1 to 11 p.m. Saturdays