By DAVID A. SEATON
A Texas man with Newkirk ties and his wife have big plans for the area that include transformation of downtown buildings into offices, a loft, a whiskey tasting room and an event center.
Work already has begun at 112 and 114 Main Street on the building owned by Jeff Casey and Shannon Guthrie. The couple also own an 80-acre farm northeast of town where they are building a second residence and a whiskey distillery they hope escalates into a national brand, made from grains, pecans and water right there on the farm in Kay County.
The Bar E Land & Cattle Company offices will be located downtown, along with a Guthrie Law Firm office.
Casey said his ties to the Newkirk area go back to the Land Run period, when his great grandfather Henry Engelking lived for two years in a dugout while his home was built.
His new business, Land Run Distillery, is an homage to that heritage of hard work and sacrifice.
“So we’re trying to honor that whole legacy,” Casey said. “Not only the whole legacy of my family, but the legacy of everybody that put in blood sweat and tears to make a life for themselves.”
Casey said he spent three years learning the whiskey distillery craft, developing a business plan and a brand.
He grew up in Oklahoma City but his parents — Pat and Virginia Casey (Engelking)— were raised in Newkirk. As a child, he visited and worked with his grandfather and other relatives on the family farm. “It’s not a random place for my wife and I to come and build a second home and other businesses,” Casey said during a phone interview last week. “It’s kinda going back home to my family.”
Jeff and Shannon live in Southlake, Texas in the Dallas-Fort Worth area. She owns Guthrie Law Firm and he owns Metro Architectural Finishes, which specializes in exterior stucco on custom homes. They decided to build a second home in Kay County away from metropolitan life, and Jeff came up with the idea of a whiskey business to utilize the resources of the family farm.
“I’m a city boy that wants to be a country boy,” Casey joked. “I’m not really a country boy. I just pretend.”
Built in 1902, their downtown building has most recently been a Dollar General store, an artist studio and an antique store. They are not restoring the building exactly to the original look but are staying true to the time period, Casey said.
They already have joined Newkirk Main Street, where he serves on the design committee. Casey is well aware of the broader hopes behind their downtown project.
“Trying to light a little fire under what’s going on on Main Street was important to us, so down the road if we can get a little bit of tourism coming into town, then hopefully that will flame the fire a little more and entice people to not only buy buildings in Newkirk but rehabilitate them properly,” Casey said.
Main Street director Rhonda Packard said the organization and the town is very excited about the couple’s plans and investments.
“I think this will do wonders for our town, and maybe spurring more interest in our buildings downtown,” she said.
As a Dollar General store, the building’s facade turned into stucco on top of aluminum, along with a large concrete handicap ramp, Casey said. He described it as utilitarian and not very pretty. The upstairs hasn’t been occupied in decades.
After multiple remodels, he said, there aren’t many valuable architectural features inside to preserve. The shared walls between buildings are stone. They are keeping the original walls upstairs as much as they can.
The couple recently bought the two buildings to the south, 110 and 108 Main Street, and expect to start work on them next year. Plans are still being developed, but Casey mentioned office spaces for the distillery and a brand of ranch wear.
The loft and offices in the building currently being remodeled should open this fall, he said, with the upscale whiskey tasting room coming the first part of 2024.
Shannon will open a law office in the space to the north. Supply chain issues have slowed down their original timeline.
The couple plan to live in the loft while their local residence is being built. It then will become available as a short-term rental during events such as Charlie Adams Day, family reunions or when people visit the distillery.