Barbara Autry’s late husband, Marvin, has been gone for 10 months, but when she discusses their Midwest Corporate Aviation, she still includes him.
“We’re always wanting to serve the Wichita community, and we’re looking at being able to do that in a better way,” Autry says.
She’s executing the plans she and her husband made for the fixed-base operation before he became ill. That includes upgrades and additions to their hangars and facilities at 3560 N. Webb Road within Colonel James Jabara Airport.
“It was time for a little TLC and adding new-and-improved things as we go along,” Autry says.
Some of the additions will be strictly aviation-related, such as a possible self-service fueling station for aircraft owners who use avgas.
Some, though, will be for pilots and the Wichita community in general.
“There’s always been a need for a nice restaurant out there, so we’re exploring that idea,” Autry says.
Details are still being worked out, but Bruce Gerleman is bringing one of his Jethro’s BBQ restaurants to Midwest Corporate Aviation.
“We’re committed to do it,” says the Des Moines, Iowa-based Gerleman. “We’re a rock ’n’ roll sports bar, fine-dining, full-service barbecue restaurant.”
The Salina native is a 1974 graduate of Wichita State University, where he was a wide receiver for the Shockers from 1969 to 1974 and also received a marketing degree.
“My degree was really in football.”
Gerleman still has family in Kansas, and he says they regularly ask him to bring his restaurant here. They’re not the only ones.
“A lot of the Shockers know about Jethro’s barbecue,” Gerleman says.
Jethro’s has catered for Shocker volleyball in Des Moines and has fed basketball players on their way back to their plane there.
Gerleman would like to offer something on their home turf, too.
“The east side of Wichita is really booming, and I think it would be a tremendous attraction to be there at the airport.”
Jethro’s has what Gerleman calls a “fun and lively” atmosphere with rock music and lots of televisions and satellite feeds to show “every football game being played.”
Gerleman hasn’t decided how big this restaurant will be, but a typical Jethro’s is between 5,000 and 7,000 square feet.
With at least two in-house smokers, Gerleman says Jethro’s smokes about 1,000 pounds of “amazing slow-smoked meats” an hour with different types of wood for different meats.
“Brisket is our specialty.”
All sides are from scratch, and meals are served on tin plates “to bring back the feeling of a cattle drive,” he says.
“When your fork clanks on the plate, it reminds you of sitting around the campfire.”
Jethro’s has received a lot of accolades from various publications. Men’s Health named it the “Manliest restaurant in the Midwest.”
The restaurant may be in its own building or part of a hangar or expanded service area. Nothing is finalized yet.
Though Gerleman is interested in other possible Wichita sites for more Jethro’s restaurants, he says that his “real excitement is being on the east side where the growth is and being a part of the airport.”
“It’ll be something special.”
Autry is interested in a full-service restaurant even though she’s already added a deli to her customer lounge.
She’s done a lot since turning her full attention back to the business.
“I just kind of regrouped,” Autry says. “We’ve been updating and renovating every area of the facility.”
There’s been what she calls spring cleaning of Midwest’s nine hangars along with new paint, carpet and signs.
Autry says she’s also been assessing what Midwest has and what it needs.
“These are all things we’ve talked about,” she says of herself and her husband. “These are our hopes and desires.”
Autry says she’s also been catching up and showing some appreciation for Midwest’s staff of 35.
“We’ve served the community for 43 years.”
Autry says her husband had the vision for the company.
“We created it together, and I plan to carry it forward.”
Autry believes that her husband is pleased.
“He loves it,” she says. “He just doesn’t want me to work too much.”