Anthony native Kathy Latham is well known in the Wichita business community, first from her time at Scotch & Sirloin, then from her own restaurant — On the Waterfront, which used to be on South Seneca — and now from the Petroleum Club.
Latham is general manager of the club and handles food service at the Walkway Cafe, also in the Bank of America Center, the Atrium Cafe in the Ruffin Building and, starting in January, the City Hall Cafe at Wichita City Hall.
What did you want to be when you grew up?
"I thought I wanted to be a veterinarian. Loved animals."
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So why didn't you become one?
"When I got out of high school, I did not have the financial means to go to college.
"My parents were wonderful. I grew up in a completely stable, normal home... but we were by pretty low means as far as economy goes."
And you had no plans to move to Wichita, right?
"I always said that I never would grow up and live in the big city of Wichita.
"I was a... small-town little country girl. The big city was just so overwhelming to me."
But then you came here to work for a chiropractor?
"It was time to move out from Mom and Dad, but I didn't want to go too far."
Then, while working for an optometrist, you went to the Scotch & Sirloin to make some extra money?
"I walked into that dimly lit, very mysterious type of an atmosphere, and there was (former owner) Laurie Doyon just sitting at the counter.
"She said, 'Can you carry a large tray?' And I said, 'Yes, ma'am.' Long hesitation, thinking to myself, what the heck is a large tray? But I thought, I can throw a bale of hay ... surely I can carry a large tray.
"And I got the job."
How did it become your full-time job?
"After a few weeks, I realized I was making more money doing that than I was in my real daytime job."
So you worked there from 1980 to 1984. What was it like?
"Boy, that's such a wide-open question. I feel like the Doyons, if you worked hard for them, they would treat you wonderful. And I did work very hard. I grew up with that small-town work ethic."
So, about those stories of the upstairs parties at the Scotch...
"I'm still waiting to this day to see the little room upstairs that was so secretly talked about."
You left the Scotch briefly to have a child but eventually came back as the evening manager. Then businessman Jack Hunt called about a new restaurant.
"My first thought was that he was asking me to come run the restaurant for him.
"He said, 'I don't think you understand. This is your opportunity to own your own.' I looked at him, and I said, 'Oh, I guess I don't understand.' "
What did you think about owning your own place?
"If I don't do this, I'm going to always wish that I would have.
"And then after I did it, if I had any idea how much I didn't know, I never would have done it."
You had the restaurant from 1987 to 1994. Why did you sell?
"At that time, I just decided I needed a break from the restaurant industry. The restaurant industry can be 12- to 14-hour days, seven days a week."
Eventually, though, businessman Alan Banta called about the Petroleum Club?
"He said, 'Hey, Kathy, we're really struggling over at the club. ... I'm just wondering if maybe you'd know somebody you'd be able to refer?'
"I said, 'Alan, is this a trick question?'
"He started laughing and he said, 'Yeah. The bottom line is I want to know if you'd be interested.' "
What did you tell him after you looked at the financials?
"Well, it definitely needs some guidance and some structure, and there's some little basic things that need to be put in place. ... But I don't know. There's no magic answer."
What attracted you to the job?
"It's a different clientele, and it's a different atmosphere when you know all your customers and you know what all your hours are going to be. That's part of what attracted me to it was already knowing a lot of the people."
You started at an incredibly low salary — by your own doing because you didn't think there were enough funds — and took on a lot. Why?
"I guess because there's this little part of me that's always willing to take on a new challenge. I'm competitive."
How did you view the challenge?
"I hate to say it in this realm, but can you save the Petroleum Club?"
Which you did?
"It was the team that I pulled together. ... It's not me by myself by any means."
What was one of the club's biggest problems?
"The fact that the facility was sitting empty a lot of the times at night — no income coming in. ... It was still a very strict membership club."
What did you do?
"Why don't we allow someone else to use the club without being a member? ... That was the success ticket right there.
"We have a bit of an image already so we draw from a nice clientele."
How did the private parties affect the business?
"When I started, the only pens on my desk were red, and now I'm happy to say they're all black.
"I recently was talking with Jeff Kennedy. He's our vice president on the board.
"He commented ... 'It sure is enjoyable to come to the board meetings now as opposed to 10 years ago when we wondered every month if we were going to be closing the doors.' "
Do you still have any career goals left?
"I feel like I've reached the pinnacle. ... I've sure come a long ways from that little country girl."
Is it true that you are perpetually perky?
What's the motto you live by?
"Don't let anyone else determine how you're going to feel. It's a mind-set. You wake up in the morning and make that decision: I'm going to be happy today."
Does anything keep you up at night?
"Let's think about all the things that have been keeping me up at night lately. Am I prepared for the next day's activities? Have I properly planned so that my staff can execute?"
How often are you up at night thinking these thoughts?
"Lately, a lot."
So the one thing no one knows about you happens at the end of your work day, right?
"I walk into the house, of course I say hi to my family that's there, pet the cats and dogs.
"I carry a .38 revolver. So I walk back into my bedroom, and I put the .38 on top of the dresser. I take off my boots, and I put on my pink fuzzy slippers."
Is the gun for club members who get out of line?