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Saturday, July 12, 2014

Businessman, patriarch Joe Steven dies at 87

BY HURST LAVIANA
The Wichita Eagle

Sissy Koury vividly recalls the days she spent polishing bumpers and running the vacuum at Joe's Seat Cover & Car Wash.

Like her 10 siblings, Koury learned everything she needed to know about business from her father, Joe Steven, who began operating the car wash at 206 N. Seneca in 1956.

"What I remember most is that we never could put our hands in our pockets," Koury said. "And we always had to have a rag in our hand. You had to be working.

"He taught us work ethic. He taught us how to work."

Mr. Steven, the patriarch of a Wichita family whose children and grandchildren went on to launch such successful businesses as Spangles restaurants and Genesis Health Clubs, died Monday. He was 87.

Koury, a Realtor and rental property owner, said the business dreams of all 11 Steven children sprang from their days polishing bumpers at the car wash.

"Trust me, when you work at a car wash, you want to do something else," she said.

Mr. Steven moved to Wichita as a child in the 1930s when his father came to town to run a pool hall. After Mr. Steven bought the car wash on North Seneca, he relied on his wife, Esther, whom he married in 1946, and children to make the business a success.

Craig Steven, the third-oldest, said the origin of Spangles restaurants could be traced to a trip his father once took to Oklahoma.

"He had visited some Coney Island restaurants in Tulsa, and was convinced they would be a hit in Wichita," Craig Steven said.

"I think the very next day we jumped in the car and drove to Tulsa and started visiting all the Coney Islands."

Craig Steven said his father helped him open the first Wichita Coney Island restaurant in the Sweetbriar Shopping Center at 21st and Amidon.

He said the restaurants featured small hot dogs with mustard, chili and onions on steamed buns. Wichitans apparently were less willing than Tulsans to make hot dogs a staple part of their diets.

"We knew that we had to add hamburgers to our menu to be successful," Craig Steven said. "Eventually we were selling more hamburgers than hot dogs."

The chain later dropped hot dogs and changed its name to Spangles. There are 27 Spangles restaurants around the state today.

Rene Steven, the 10th-oldest of the 11 Steven children and a spokeswoman for Spangles, said her father was known by many as a shrewd businessman, but she said his passion was his family.

Every summer the family would make trips to Lake Afton in an old passenger bus converted into a camper.

"Holidays were very important to him," Rene Steven said. "Father's Day, Mother's Day, Thanksgiving, Christmas. He especially loved Christmas. It was probably his favorite."

Rene Steven said that even after the Steven children were grown, Sundays often were large family get-togethers with plenty of grandchildren at her parents' west Wichita home.

"He just loved his family," she said. "Of course, we loved him, too."

Reach Hurst Laviana at 316-268-6499 or hlaviana@wichitaeagle.com.

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