Dining With Denise Neil

Popular Wichita restaurant gets new owners, new hours after 27 years

Byblos on West 13th Street is closed this week while its new owners give it a facelift.
Byblos on West 13th Street is closed this week while its new owners give it a facelift. The Wichita Eagle

Byblos, the Mediterranean restaurant at 3088 W. 13th St. that has been run for 27 years by the Saad family, has been closed since Friday. But it will reopen soon with new owners.

Ilham Saad, who opened Byblos in 1989 with her late husband, Kamal, has sold it to Rania Taha and Bashar Mahanweh. The deal was sudden, she said, and she barely had time to alert her longtime customers.

Saad said she wasn’t looking to sell the restaurant and hoped to keep it until she reached retirement age in another seven years. But Taha, whom she has known for several years, and Mahanweh, made her a generous offer.

“I never thought it was going to be for sale, but I gave them a price they accepted,” Saad said. “My husband always used to say, ‘Every business is for sale.’ ”

Taha and Mahanweh were recently married. He owns chicken and fish restaurants in Chicago and was looking for a place to open an authentic Middle Eastern restaurant in Wichita. He couldn’t find just the right spot, but the couple liked Byblos and Saad’s food, so they decided to make her an offer.

The new owners say they will keep the name and menu the same and will try to replicate Saad’s popular recipes. They also plan to add more items to the menu.

This week, Taha said, they are remodeling the restaurant to give it an open kitchen. They may be ready to reopen by early next week, she said.

Saad ended the restaurant’s evening hours in 2013 and had been serving only lunch since then. At the time, Saad said she cut back the hours at the urging of her daughters, who wanted her to slow down. She’d been running the restaurant on her own since Kamal died in 2009.

She said waking up Monday morning and not going to the restaurant was a strange feeling. Her plan now is to find a local publisher for her cookbook, which contains all of her recipes made popular at the restaurant. Ideally, she said, she could have it ready to go by Christmas.

The most difficult thing has been the idea that she won’t see her longtime customers on a daily basis.

“On Friday, I didn’t have the heart to tell people,” she said. “My customers are like my family, my friends. I love each one of them.”

Denise Neil: 316-268-6327, @deniseneil