When the bulldozers finish their work in a few weeks, a part of Wichita’s dining history will come to an end. (Although its waffles will survive.)
Sometime after Sunday, Wichita’s final Kings-X at 2014 W 21st St. will be torn down to make way for a new CVS Pharmacy that will go up this summer on the lot where the restaurant has operated since it opened in 1968.
“We’re sad and frustrated,” said Jack Davidson, who along with wife, Linda, bought the business in 2007. “We worked for the last five years to take something barely hanging on by its fingernails and turn it into a pretty good little business. And during that period of time, we’ve made friends, not only customers.”
The Davidsons own the dandy black-and-white retro building with the zig-zag roofline that houses King’s-X. But they lease the ground it sits on, and its owners sold to CVS, who told the Davidsons they’d need them to clear out by the end of November.
The restaurant, which serves classic breakfast dishes, burgers and blue plates such as chicken-fried steak, will close for good at the end of business Sunday.
The closing marks the end of the Kings-X tradition in Wichita, which started in 1938 when White Castle fry cook-turned manager A.J. “Jimmie” King bought several Wichita White Castle stores and changed their names to Kings-X.
The business quickly expanded. Through the years, Kings-X restaurants operated in spots all over town. At one point, King operated as many as eight restaurants in Wichita, including the Big Bun, which sat at Central and Oliver where a QuikTrip is now.
In 1987, King’s son Wayne and developer George Ablah opened Jimmie’s Diner at 3111 N. Rock Road as a tribute to A.J., who died in 2004. At the time, Davidson said, the restaurant — which had a 1950s theme and poodle-skirt-wearing waitresses — was one of the few businesses that existed that far north on Rock Road.
It was an instant hit.
At the time of King’s death, son Wayne was running the four remaining restaurants — Jimmie’s Diner, Toc’s Coffeehouse at Harry and George Washington Boulevard, Kings-X Westway at Seneca and Pawnee and the Kings-X at 21st and Amidon that will close Sunday.
In 2007, the Davidsons bought the 21st and Amidon Kings-X and Jimmie’s Diner. In 2011, they also were able to purchase Toc’s Coffeehouse. In February, they reopened it as a Jimmie’s Diner.
The Davidsons hope to eventually open a new restaurant in the 21st and Amidon neighborhood, though they’ll call it Jimmie’s Diner. They don’t own the Kings-X name but were allowed to keep it on the 21st and Amidon restaurant.
They’ve spent the last several weeks making plans to empty the restaurant of its tables, chairs and kitchen equipment, arranging jobs at their Jimmie’s Diners for the Kings-X employees who want them, and saying goodbye to longtime customers.
Kings-X is the kind of neighborhood cafe that has dedicated regulars.
Among them are Lester and Mae Heath, who have driven from Bentley to Kings-X for breakfast every Saturday for the past five years.
Heath’s favorite waitress, Melissa, knows what he wants before he orders it: biscuits and gravy with eggs over easy sitting on top and a side of bacon. (Mae gets the same thing, minus the eggs.)
When the Heaths heard the restaurant would close, they were upset.
“We were brokenhearted,” Lester said. “My wife cried. This place is a landmark.”
Though Kings-X will be history, Davidson promises to keep one if it signature items on his Jimmie’s Diner menus.
The famous Kings-X waffle, made from a batter recipe that King painstakingly created, will still be available in all of its sweet, flat, crunchy goodness.