Dining With Denise Neil

In memoriam: Restaurants Wichita loved, then lost, in 2016

Schane Gross’ Fork & Fennel closed in October.
Schane Gross’ Fork & Fennel closed in October. Eagle file photo

The restaurant biz is a tough biz.

Although Wichita gains new restaurants each year, the joy is often muted by the pain of losing old favorites.

And 2016 was no exception. Last year saw the closing of several favorites, from hidden gems to longtime institutions. There’s a silver lining for some: new restaurants already committed to moving into the vacated spaces. For others, only darkness.

Here are the ones that hurt the most.

1. Fork & Fennel, 2014-2016: The Anchor’s owner Schane Gross opened this little French-style bistro in 2014 at 3425 E. Douglas, and she had such grand plans. She imagined a neighborhood gathering place that College Hill residents would bike to and hang out on the patio drinking hand-crafted cocktails. But by fall of 2016, Gross found herself overextended and neglecting her other businesses. She decided to shed Fork & Fennel, which had operated in an old Taco Tico building she had lovingly remodeled. The last day in business was Oct. 7.

Silver lining: A new restaurant will take over the space this year. Dempsey’s Biscuit Co., owned by the minds behind Dempsey’s Burger Pub, will open in the space soon.

2. Fox and Hound, 2004-2016: It was abrupt and startling. One Saturday night in August, Fox and Hound Pub & Grill – a favorite gathering space for sports fans at the Waterfront – was open as usual. The next day, it was gone. The restaurant had been there since 2004, but last summer, its parent company filed for Chapter 11 reorganization bankruptcy. So far, the space is still vacant and is listed for lease online.

Silver lining: At least there’s the potential that something even cooler will move in at the Waterfront, which already has so many destination restaurants.

3. Taste & See, 2013-2016: The surprise announcement came just before Christmas. Taste & See, the restaurant at 255 N. Washington that was part-owned by local celebrity chef Jason Febres, would close on the last day of 2016. His partner, Steven Bacci, said it was time and that he wanted to focus on his family and his other business, the bar Gianni Baccis next door. Now, Febres has a new job as a sales rep for Indian Hills, a Wichita food distribution company.

Silver lining: A new tenant is already planning to take over the space: Blue Fin, a Japanese fusion restaurant, should open sometime in early 2017.

4. Hungry Heart, 2014-2016: Those short ribs. Those ahi nachos. That beer-flavored ice cream. The Hungry Heart, a gastropub and brewery that opened in late 2014 at 222 S. Commerce, was tucked away near the northeast corner of Intrust Bank Arena and hard to find. But those who did find it were rewarded with fabulous food, much of it smoked to perfection in the big smoker parked out front. Sadly, one morning in October, the restaurant was closed and a sign posted on the door by the Kansas Department of Revenue said the property had been seized for nonpayment of taxes.

Silver lining: One of the partners in the former restaurant is still catering. The other is cooking up plans for a new venture. And the space has been taken over by the owners of Emerson Biggins, who have plans to eventually fill it with another brewery.

5. Lou’s Charcuteria, 2014-2016: Lou’s at 220 S. Commerce was right next door to The Hungry Heart. Its food, which focused on artful charcuterie trays, was equally good, but the spot was equally hard to find. Owners Luis Lopez and his daughter, Erica Lopez-Davis, who also own downtown’s Emerson Biggins, decided to close it two weeks after The Hungry Heart closed, and its last day operating as a daily restaurant was Dec. 10.

Silver lining: The landlord really wanted Lou’s stay and negotiated with the family to keep the Lou’s space and take over The Hungry Heart space as well. The family now is making the two spaces one business that will open any time Intrust Bank Arena has an event, serving a smaller bar menu with the same types of dishes that both Lou’s and The Hungry Heart served. They’ll also rent out the massive space for special events, Lopez-Davis said, and they hope to eventually open the Hungry Heart side as a new brewery for Wichita.

6. Orange Leaf, 2010-2016: People with kids relied on Orange Leaf, which was the first and biggest serve-your-own-yogurt chain to hit the Wichita market back in 2010. But as the trend died down, the four local Orange Leaf stores started closing, until only two were left. In September, franchisee Jeff Finnell closed his store at 119th and Maple, leaving only the store outside the Warren Theatre at 21st and Tyler. In October, it disappeared, too. My children are still in mourning, and their pain can be weighed by the ounce.

Silver lining: Wichita still has a few self-serve frozen yogurt spots left, including Peachwave at 10096 E. 13th St., Pippy’s at 11414 E. Central and Yo-B in Old Town Square.

7. Taqueria El Paisa, 1998-2016: One of the first restaurants in Wichita that served Mexican food that was less Tex-Mex and more the real deal was Taqueria El Paisa, which opened at 2227 N. Arkansas in 1998. But in August, it closed after 18 years in business. Owner Concepcion Acosta had been trying to sell the restaurant for nearly three years but never found a buyer. Instead, she decided to retire.

Silver lining: Egg Cetera owner Manuel Salas opened a new restaurant called Casa Del Charro in the space in October.

8. Oeno Wine Bar, 2006-2016: Back when it first opened, Oeno was the place to be. I spent many an evening sipping wine on its patio. It morphed into more of a dance club during the past few years, and finally, just before Christmas, owner Melad Stephan decided to close it for good. I attended the auction of the bar’s glasses, ice scoopers and patio chairs, and it was a bittersweet day.

Silver lining: The only one I can think of is that I will get to work in the space Oeno formerly occupied. A deal has been struck for The Wichita Eagle to move its offices this spring to Old Town Square, and we’ll occupy the former Associated Advertising and Oeno spaces. If only Stephan would leave the bar there.

9. Lakeside Club, 2012-2016: It was a private club, but it was a pretty swanky place to dine, and you could get in if you were a member or knew a member. But after less than five years, Wink Hartman Sr. opted to close the space, which had held several swanky restaurants before it, including Bella Donna and Garozzo’s. East-siders were suddenly without a place to meet for cocktails and host their exclusive Christmas parties.

Silver lining: The lining is most silver for employees of developer Jack DeBoer, a former member of Lakeside Club. In October, he announced he was buying the Lakeside Club building and would move about 25 employees there.

10. TLC Muffins, 1986-2016: Wichita didn’t realize how much it loved muffins until it found out the muffins were going away. In December, owners Ron and Joanne Brown announced they’d be closing their muffin business at 2801 W. Central after 30 years, and customers expressed their sadness on Facebook. TLC’s last day was Christmas Eve.

Silver lining: None whatsoever, except that the Browns now are free to enjoy retirement

Other restaurants we lost in 2016

Pho Hot Bistro, 306 N. Rock Road

Westlink Dairy Queen, 9310 W. Central

Emelia’s Family Dining, 784 N. West St.

Angela’s Cafe, 901 E. Central

Burn Out Bar & Grill, 1021 W. Maple

Angkor Donuts, 460 N. West St.

Toni D’s Too, 301 N. Main

Rolled Donuts and Meat Pies, 1050 W. 47th St. South

Pirate Pete’s, 1648 S. Rock Road

Seneca Street Bar & Grill, 3837 S. Seneca

Uncle Joe’s, 8404 W 13th St. North

Wichita Pizza Co., 1520 S. Webb Road

Buck’s Bar and Grill, 1014 N. West St.

Taco J’s, 233 N. Main, Haysville