Tony Abdayem still remembers May 17, 1986. It was a Saturday, and he and his family opened the doors of their new bakery and cafe, La Galette at 1017 W. Douglas, to crowds so huge, they couldn’t believe their good fortune.
They had to stay open until 10 p.m.
“I thought, ‘Oh my gosh. We need more helpers,’æ” Abdayem said with a laugh. Much later, the family of Lebanese immigrants, including Abdayem’s parents and two brothers, realized that they’d accidentally opened on the final day of the Wichita River Festival, when the downtown area was teeming with traffic.
Although the opening night mob scene tapered off when the festival closed, La Galette has maintained 25 years worth of business strong enough to take it from the seven-seat bakery it was in 1986 to the 145-seat thriving restaurant and catering business it is today.
Last Tuesday, the owners of the family-run French bakery and cafe celebrated the restaurant’s 25th anniversary by doing what they always do: Baking, sauteing, and hustling delicate French pastries, sandwiches on homemade bread, quiches and fattouch salads through a busy, bustling dining room.
“What’s kept us going all these years is the love for the people,” Abdayem said. “God bless this country. You have so many opportunities here that you can’t find anywhere else in the world.”
These days, La Galette is owned by Abdayem, who had the original vision to open the restaurant, storing equipment he bought at auctions in the back yard, much to his parents’ dismay.
But they bought in to his plan, and the family ran the business together until 1998, when Tony bought out his parents and brothers, purchased the land the restaurant sat on and expanded it into the building next door. Tony now owns the entire block his restaurant sits on, including the building that houses his brother John’s T.J.’s Burger House.
Now, Abdayem’s family keeps La Galette afloat. He runs the restaurants and keeps its beautiful pastry cabinet filled with eclairs, cream puffs, and Chantilly cream layer cakes. His wife, Michelle, and older children, Newman University students Samantha and Chris, run the front of the restaurant.
Tony’s brother, Eli, comes in after the kitchen cools down each night to do the restaurant’s baking, and nephew Rabih Attar works in the kitchen making sauces, soups and quiches. Abdayem’s 80-year-old father, Abdallah, helps out occasionally still, too.
His mother, Juliette, worked tirelessly in the kitchen making her famous Lebanese cabbage rolls and more until she suffered a stroke last year, just a few months after Tony’s longtime chef, French-born and trained Alain Artiquelongue, died suddenly of a heart attack.
The losses only solidified Tony’s belief that he wants a full life in addition to his successful business. Tony, who doesn’t trust the restaurant under anyone else’s supervision, rarely takes vacations. He’s resisted loyal customers’ pleas to open for dinner or restore Sunday hours so that he can have some time for himself, his family and his two younger children, Stefanie, 15, and Brandon, 13.
Stefanie is showing interest in the baking business, he said, and although he wants her to stay focused on her education, Abdayem is hopeful that she’ll one day carry on the delicious work done in Delano by two generations before her.
“I’ve been so blessed to have all my family helping me,” he said. “Otherwise, I couldn’t do it.”