No one claps at the sound of breaking glass at Issa-owned restaurants Scotch & Sirloin, Hereford House, YaYa’s Eurobistro and Larkspur.
The age-old restaurant joke, demonstrated regularly by diners in response to noisy waiter accidents, is not funny in these restaurants.
Not to the customers. Not to the co-workers of the unfortunate glass dropper. And definitely not to Mike Issa, who over the past several years has developed a reputation among wine lovers as a man who is as serious about his glass as he is about his grapes.
Issa, who along with his older brothers Ty and Ali own the four upscale restaurants, feels the same way about fine wine, stemware and crystal decanters as some men feel about football, golf or classic cars.
Though the three brothers are all passionate about the wine-drinking experience, it’s Mike Issa’s obsession. He can’t get enough. And the results are on display at the brothers’ restaurants, where drinking wine has become an event. (Mike runs the Scotch at 5325 E. Kellogg and Hereford House at Andover’s Terradyne Country Club. Ty is the face of YaYa’s Eurobistro at Bradley Fair and Larkspur downtown. Ali is in charge of several IHOP restaurants the brothers own in Wichita and Emporia. They also have Heat Cigar & Hookah Lounge near Central and Rock.)
“It’s a lot of fun,” Mike Issa says of his wine obsession. “I’ve always thought that it’s an art. It’s kind of an art form.”
Mike Issa, who says he’s always had an appreciation of fine wine, became even more interested during the past five years when he started meeting with glassware makers and frequently traveling to California wine country, where he learned firsthand what a difference temperature control, decanting and proper stemware make to the quality of a glass of wine.
He and his brothers started to build the wine lists at the family’s restaurants, and the brothers invested in showy wine rooms at the front of the restaurants, each stocked with 1,000 bottles on display at ideal temperatures. Hereford House had a wine room, and the brothers added one at YaYa’s and then at the Scotch.
After he began working with Riedel, the well-known and revered Austria-based producer of stemware, Mike Issa developed his fascination with glass.
He began collecting decanters, which are serving vessels bottles of wine are poured into to separate sediment and get the right amount of oxygen into the wine. He now has amassed an unusually large collection. Hereford House has 18 of the extravagant, mouth-blown creations, which are reminiscent of coiling crystal snakes. The Scotch has eight, including one that’s among only 500 of its kind ever made. Larkspur and YaYa’s also have decanters, though fewer.
“When we started getting those beautiful toys and tools, wine became exciting,” Mike Issa said. “And we didn’t stop at the first step. We go to the extreme.”
The attention to glass is impressing visitors at the Scotch, a Wichita institution that the Issas took over from longtime owner Lindy Andeel. Traveling businessmen are taking stories of Wichita’s wine sophistication home with them, Mike Issa said, and locals are becoming educated on the right way to drink wine. Wine sales are up 20 percent at the Scotch, he said.
Local wine enthusiast Tim Rohrig said that when Hereford House opened at Terradyne Country Club, he stopped by to visit and was impressed by the wine list. He got to know Mike Issa, who explained the construction of his wine room. Rohrig liked it so much, he designed one like it at his house.
He also was impressed by the glassware and especially the decanters. Now, sometimes, he has parties at one of the restaurants just so he can have his wine served from one of Mike Issa’s decanters.
“They will decant anything and everything,” Rohrig said. “Mike has the largest selection of Riedel decanters I’ve seen in the country. I’ve been from New York to California and parts in between, and I have not seen that extensive a collection. Every time they come out with a new one, he has it.”
Rohrig said that the Issas’ attention to wine and the experience of drinking it have put their restaurants on par with Wichita’s other wine-forward restaurants, including Chester’s Chophouse, Lakeside Club, Newport Grill, Mike’s Wine Dive and Woodfire Grill at the Kansas Star Casino. Many of them also use Riedel stemware.
“When I talk to my friends and colleagues around the country and we talk about what we have in Wichita, they are really surprised,” he said.
Mike Issa’s decanters are like sculptures, some twisty, some tall, some clear, some multicolored. They’re so valuable, starting at around $250 and going up to around $2,000, that they’re handled with great care and never left at tables. Employees appear to hold their breath when they’re carrying them.
Mike Issa says the brothers decant every bottle of wine sold in their restaurants, and they serve wine only in Riedel stemware.
The glasses, some of which retail for $125 apiece, are crafted with precise shapes and openings designed to deliver different wine varieties to exact points on the palate. A pinot noir glass, for example, is shaped like a tulip, with a wide base curving to a small opening. A shiraz glass, meanwhile, is more bulb-shaped, with a small opening.
The glassware investment was significant, Issa said. Customers are finished with their food in about 15 minutes, but the glass of wine sits on the table and is savored during the entire meal. It should be special and memorable, he said.
“Wichita is becoming very knowledgeable about wine,” said Ty Issa. “The sophistication of wine drinkers in Wichita has come a long way in the last 15 years.”
Mike Issa offers regular Riedel tastings at Hereford House, where attendees can try wines in the glasses vs. a standard glass and get to keep the set. He has another one in the works for early November.
He also has begun offering regular wine dinners at the Scotch and has another one planned for Sept. 11, where attendees can meet master sommeliers from California’s Chappellet Winery and enjoy a five-course dinner with five wines – each, of course, served in the proper glass.
If You Go
Chappellet Wine Dinner
What: A dinner featuring the wines of Chappellet Winery, five courses and five wines served in Riedel glasses
When: 7 p.m. Sept. 11
Where: Scotch & Sirloin, 5325 E. Kellogg Drive
Cost: $75 a person