It’s a slightly overcast Thursday afternoon in early June, and the recent rainfall has put a bit of a damper on big weekend plans at Palo Duro Canyon. Even still, a steady stream of joyful shoppers are eagerly perusing the wares at Sad Monkey Mercantile, a new general store located just ahead of the entrance to the state park.
The shoppers are diverse. All ages. From many places. Some are drinking wine, some beer and some are in need of a strong cup of coffee on this cloudy day. You can’t know for sure what made them stop in today, but Michael Standefer, one of the co-owners of the Mercantile, says one of the Texas-sized reasons people stop in is to see the longhorns that live in the field near the building.
“It’s very Texas,” he says. “We’ve had a lot of people from places like Russia, Italy and China ask to see the longhorns, and we’ve actually taken them out to see them. They just love it. They go on and on about how neat it is to see them up close.”
Turns out, the Standefer brothers have a soft spot for all things on four legs.
“There’s a dog park down here,” Jonathan Standefer laughs. “Michael and I are both single and no kids, but we both have dogs. So we made a dog park.”
The two brothers-turned-business owners are three years apart in age. They both graduated from Amarillo High School. Michael went to college at West Texas A&M University in Canyon and got into the family construction business. Jonathan left the Panhandle for 17 years, spending time in Waco and Austin, where he worked in graphic and web design. He decided to return to the Panhandle when his brother pitched him the idea of opening the Sad Monkey Mercantile. The business opened its doors in November 2022.
“Me and my dad came up with the design of the building and built it,” Michael says. “Now, Jonathan and I run it.”
They admit the two of them have been blessed with very opposite skill sets, and when it comes to running a business, it’s been pretty serendipitous.
“If we need a new product put into the system or on the website, I’ll do it,” Jonathan says. “But if we need a door fixed or have an issue with an espresso machine, Michael will have to do it.”
It seems to be a true brotherhood, and a peaceful one. “We get along really well,” Jonathan is quick to say.
“We’re kind of yin and yang,” Michael adds. “Polar opposites in a way. We’ve both got a dry sense of humor, but we get along really well. We rarely fight, if ever.”
The feeling may be peaceful, but it’s far from easy. “It’s been a lot of work,” they say almost in unison.
After a half year in business, they’ve learned to stock plenty of Dramamine and to cut back on their Snickers orders. They know, now, that you’ve got to have plenty of Michelob Ultra on tap, even though visitors are eager to sample their eclectic craft beer selections.
“It’s consuming for sure, but it’s great. It’s so much different than what I’m used to,” Jonathan adds. “It’s really nice talking to new people. You go to so many places never thinking about what went into that place where you and your friends gather. Now, we have provided a place for people to gather, and it’s really nice to see people meet and hang out and laugh.”
It’s clear they designed the space with gathering in mind. Different-sized tables fill the center of the room, while 100-year-old whiskey barrels and beams line the walls. Nearby, the Sad Monkey Mercantile’s shelves are filled with snacks, beer and wine, camping supplies and a host of unique product lines, many of which are made by local artisans (including issues of Brick & Elm). They also sell a few health and beauty items. Jonathan notes with a smile that soap sales haven’t been as strong as they thought they might be.
The brothers are particularly fond of their Sad Monkey-branded Stanley products—a special homage to their grandfather, who developed Sunday Canyon in the 1960s. “We were at my brother and my dad’s office, and we found this super old Stanley mug,” Jonathan explains. “It was our grandfather’s. He passed away when we were in high school, but we just got to thinking that mug probably passed this piece of land many, many times. So we reached out to Stanley, and we got our own line. It’s kind of full-circle.”
Behind the main building is the Sad Monkey Hall, an impressive, quintessentially-Texas dance hall that holds up to 150 people seated and 300 people standing. Designed with concerts, weddings, reunions and public markets in mind, the hall offers a perfect blend of feminine and masculine touches throughout. Bookings have started to trickle in, and the Standefers have hired an event planner to help with that side of the business.
On the patio, visitors are greeted with picnic tables, cornhole and on the weekends, a food truck that serves, “everything that’s good but not good for you” like burgers, chicken sandwiches, brisket fries and a churro donut that has received rave reviews.
Visitors are frequently treated to live music. Michael calls the small, acoustic shows Campfire Sessions, and the music is certain to give listeners a taste of the Panhandle music scene.
And while a few local visitors stop by for a last-minute anniversary or birthday gift, the Standefers say 80 percent of their customers come from outside the area, proving that the travel boom experienced by state and national parks during COVID is still going strong.
“Many of our customers come out for the craft beer,” Michael says. “But statistically, most of our customers are brand-new every single day. Their idea of what Texas is is kind of funny. They get a lot of it from the Western movies, and they just assume we all wear cowboy hats and ride a horse to work.”
While they may not wear cowboy hats every day, the brothers do think there is an opportunity to ride the wave of affinity for cowboy culture into new business ventures in the future.
“We’ve talked about opening another [mercantile] somewhere else,” Jonathan says. “Maybe adding a little one-story roadside motel in the back.”
They are focused on creating memorable experiences for their customers and guests. The brothers have fond memories of traveling as kids, when they were able to create special moments together. Their eyes get teary when talking about the nostalgia of their youth and the special opportunity they’ve been given to, once again, create something together.
“You know this was about two years in the making,” Michael says. “There was one night when we were just kind of gathered in the bar locking up. To just stop and look at what we’ve done, it’s surreal. Never in a million years did I think we’d do a camping goods and beer and coffee shop. We wear a lot of hats—hats we never thought we’d wear, but it’s been a lot of fun.”
What’s In a Name?
The Sad Monkey Mercantile is named after the Sad Monkey rock formation in Palo Duro Canyon that overlooks the amphitheater, where the world-famous play TEXAS is performed. From 1955 to 1996, a miniature train with the name “The Sad Monkey Railroad” took visitors on tours through the state park.
Hours of Operation
Open 10 a.m. to 8 p.m., seven days a week
9800 Texas 217
Canyon, TX 79015