The drama-filled restaurant venture that Michael Gonzalez started with a hot dog cart in the mall back in 2004 has come to a close in Wichita.
The Metro Grill at Central and Tyler closed on Sunday.
Current Metro Grill owner Victor Hammond, who recently took full ownership of Metro Grill after a falling out with Gonzalez more than a year ago, said he couldn’t make the business work any longer.
“We worked so hard,” he said. “Maybe if we’d been in a different location.”
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Gonzalez opened the Metro Grill at Central and Maize in early 2014 after the space was vacated by pizza restaurant Bartelli’s. Hammond started working there soon after and partnered with Gonzalez. But the two had an argument, and Hammond asked him not to come back. He never did, Hammond said, and recently, the courts granted Hammond full ownership.
But he couldn’t keep the business going, he said. The rent in the space was too high, and he and his wife were running it on their own. She’s due to have a baby in October, Hammond said, and he can’t make it work without her. Though he’s not sure what he’s going to do next, he said, some investors have offered to help him start a food truck in Denver.
“I honestly don’t know what I’m going to do,” he said. “I need to take some time.”
Metro Grill’s existence in Wichita has been tumultuous.
Gonzalez and his former wife, Sarita, opened the hot dog and sandwich cart in Towne East in 2004, gaining attention for their gourmet Cuban and Bob sandwiches and for Gonzalez’s showy, Emeril Lagasse-style showmanship.
In 2008, he expanded his presence in the food court and opened 5-10-Gourmet in one of the stationary kiosks. But Gonzalez got behind on his taxes, and the restaurant wasn’t open long.
In 2011, he expanded into Andover and opened Metro Grill II. But he and Sarita decided to divorce and began arguing over the ownership of the restaurant in court – and in public. A few months later, Gonzalez sold the restaurant to an employee. It’s still open but has a different owner and a new name – Metro Bistro.
Later that year, Gonzalez partnered with some local nightclub owners to open Metro Grill III inside of the Encore nightclub, which operated at 5205 E. Kellogg where O’Briens Irish Pub is now. The nightclub closed after only a couple of months in business.
In early 2012, Gonzalez opened another Metro Grill, this one at the Waterfront at 13th and Webb. It closed abruptly in early 2014, and the landlord accused Gonzalez of gutting the place on his way out. Gonzalez disputed those claims.
Gonzalez closed the mall cart in 2013 and sold it to a customer, who moved it to Arkansas.
Finally, in 2014, he opened the Central and Maize Metro Grill. Hammond said he hasn’t seen Gonzalez since their argument more than a year ago.
All the phone numbers I’ve had for Gonzalez over the years are either disconnected or belong to someone else now.