Supporter Spotlight – Malisa Monyakula

Posted on April 10, 2024 by Courtney Hattaway

Meet Malisa Monyakula, Kansas City local restauranteur, farmer, capybara lover, and enthusiastic supporter of our mission here at Cultivate KC!

Malisa established Lulu’s Thai Noodle Shop in 1997, a restaurant lovingly serving up traditional Thai dishes honoring her family’s rich history, now expanded to three locations in Crossroads, Westwood, and Overland Park. Her innovative drive led her to become self-employed at just 23 years old in 1989, when she opened her very first business, Underground Graphix, a silk-screening company. She then opened Groove Farm in 1990, a record store which sold all kinds of 90’s staples- CD’s, vinyl, band posters, Doc Martens, Vans shoes, skateboards, and even Manic Panic hair dye. These days, along with Lulu’s, Malisa owns and operates Midtown Signs with her husband, Dennis Baughman.

She has two children, two dogs, and one cat, but sadly, no capybaras. She enjoys spending time on her 84-acre farm in Ottawa, Kansas, where she and her family are in the process of establishing native prairie grasses, but her heart is truly at home whenever she visits Maui or Krabi, Thailand, her two favorite places in the world. Malisa’s happiest place is the ocean, and she finds relaxation and renewal whenever she’s swimming, listening to music, or reading a good book. Her favorite smell is the scent that follows a good rain in the woods. (Fun fact: That mysterious smell has a name, and it’s called Petrichor!)

We interviewed Malisa to learn a few fun facts about her, and most importantly, why she supports urban agriculture!

Is there a unique fact or hidden talent that you’d like to share? 
I LOVE capybaras!! If I feel stressed or down, I watch capybara reels! 

What is your favorite farmer’s market and why? 
The OP market for sure! It’s right out our back door at Lulu’s in OP. I actually met a Thai woman who graduated from the New Roots Program at the market.

When and why did you first get involved with Cultivate? 
I believe I reached out to Semra in 2020. I love the New Roots program!! 

What makes our mission meaningful to you? 
I think it’s so important for everyone to have access to fresh fruits and vegetables. In Thailand, fresh fruit is literally growing everywhere. Even in Bangkok! I picked a carambola (star fruit) off a tree in my father’s friend’s yard. 

What has been your favorite/most surprising, educational, or rewarding part of supporting CKC?
Meeting all the great folks who work with CKC- and meeting the farmers. I love this program. – it’s all about giving a hand up and empowering humans.

And our most important question of course is: What is your favorite vegetable and why? 
Brussel sprouts- I love them fresh in salads and roasted with any variety of spices.

Malisa’s steadfast commitment to food justice and our local farming community is present in the many ways she contributes to Cultivate KC’s ongoing work. She has fundraised at her restaurants for the New Roots program, donated monetarily to Annual Farmers & Friends, and she and Dennis have gifted signage and services. Last Fall, she purchased land in KCK for the sole purpose of planting a demonstration orchard for farmers to learn about growing fruit trees and bushes. She’s truly made an indelible impact on not only our organization, but our entire city as well.