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A conversation with Ted Farha

  • The Wichita Eagle
  • Published Sunday, June 17, 2012, at 7:47 a.m.

Of all the ubiquitous Farhas in Wichita, Ted Farha is one of the most recognizable about town.

In some circles, it’s for his music.

“I love all kinds of music,” Farha said.

He mostly plays bluegrass, country and folk with Pop & the Boys and his new band, Haymakers.

In other circles, Farha and his brother, Ed, are known for their Farha Construction, a company they started in 1978.

Ted Farha attended only a couple of college classes, but Fran Jabara, founder of the Center for Entrepreneurship at Wichita State University, introduced the Farhas to the center’s Ron Christy.

“We basically had our own private professor for over 10 years,” Farha said. “He helped us navigate and grow our business.”

Through the years, all sorts of family members – children, nieces and nephews – have worked for the business. Ted Farha’s son Ben works there now. It was Ben Farha and his friend Trae Staats’ idea to start the company’s roofing division more than two years ago. Ted Farha’s son Mark owns Farha Development.

Some of Farha Construction’s most recognizable current work is with downtown developers Robert Eyster and Michael Ramsey, who have numerous projects in the works, such as redeveloping the former Protection One building at First and Market into condos called the Lux.

Did you have any reservations about going into business with your brother?

No. … I looked up to my brother. … (In school) everybody knew Ed. People didn’t pick on me because I was Ed’s little brother.

What role do each of you play in the business?

I’m more of a people person. I like to go talk to people about work. … I used to tell people I get the work and Ed gets it done.

You haven’t had much formal training in the business, have you?

I learned it on the job. I learned it when I worked for other general contractors.

Is there an area that you specialize in?

We built a lot of restaurants over the years. … We built Ya Ya’s … Bella Luna … Larkspur. … We’ve built about 17 or 18 Spangles.

Now we’re doing a lot of multifamily.

There was a time that we were building a lot of retail centers when they were hot. … We built most of the buildings at Bradley Fair. As Bradley Fair expanded every year or two, we’d build another 20,000- or 30,000-square-foot building.

What do you like about the business?

I like being a part of the creative and development process.

I love the people. I love seeing things go together. You know, taking an old, dilapidated building like the Zelman or the Renfro that we’re working on right now … and then (turning) it into a really cool space, you know, saving all the historic fabric of the building. … Taking a building that’s 75 or 100 years old and giving it another 50 or 100 years. To restore an old building and give it a new life is a much greener way of building than starting from scratch.

Being a part of that whole process is … very rewarding.

Such as converting the Finn family’s former warehouse into the Finn Lofts on Commerce Street?

The Finn project was one of the coolest projects we’ve ever done.

What’s it like working with Eyster and Ramsey?

It’s a piece of cake. … We have a similar vision and a similar love for downtown.

I remember coming down here when I was 10. … It was so much fun just to be down here.

All those years, for it to be so … in atrophy – all these empty buildings and everybody’s moved out. It was sad to see.

But you think that’s changing?

We could certainly have a vital downtown again. I really believe it. There’s a lot of people who do. … I just want to be a part of all that stuff.

Anything keep you up at night?

Lots of stuff. Making sure that we have everything budgeted properly. … Just worrying about doing a good job.

Each of your four kids at one point worked for you, right?

I just thought they need to be around commerce. … Growing up, I watched my dad buy and sell stuff, and I think I learned a lot about how … business works.

But you didn’t encourage them to go into the business?

My boys are both in construction without my prodding. It wasn’t like, “Come back here and do this thing with me.” I love this business, but not everybody does.

You’re happy that they’re in it, though?

It’s a great business for them to be in. I couldn’t be happier for them because they’re doing what they want to do. That’s kind of icing on the cake. I get to work with my boys every day.

Reach Carrie Rengers at 316-268-6340 or crengers@wichitaeagle.com.

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