Dining With Denise Neil

Wichita restaurant closing so owner can pursue music stardom

Wichita is losing a restaurant, yes.

But it’s gaining the possibility that it can one day claim an international music star as its own. (Oh, and also a new Korean restaurant for the east side.)

June 11 will be the last day in business for Adrian’s Cafe, the restaurant at 2121 N. Rock Road that George Matta opened in 2004 and named for his son.

It’s been a good run, said Matta, who came to the United States from Lebanon in the 1980s and never left. But he’s 54, he said, and he recently realized that if he doesn’t pursue his dream of becoming a professional Arabic recording artist now, it might never happen.

“I want to follow my passion,” he said.

Matta, a studied vocalist and master of classical guitar, plans to move back to Lebanon to finish his latest album and establish a music career. In between cooking up shawarma and falafel for his customers, Matta has been taking private vocal lessons with George Gibson at Wichita State University and has continued to hone his guitar skills. He also plays the lute.

When Matta was 18, he won a televised singing competition in Lebanon and imagined that would be his career. He initially came to the states to visit his cousins, including Latour founder Antoine Toubia. But when he was ready to go home, the war in Lebanon had escalated and his family urged him to stay in Wichita. He worked for 15 years as a manager and chef in popular Latour restaurants Cafe Chantilly and Piccadilly, and along the way, he got married and had a son and daughter.

He never gave up on his music, though, frequently performing for his customers at Adrian’s. But he found that Wichita didn’t have much market for live Arabic music.

“It became more like a hobby,” he said.

His music lessons gave him confidence and helped stir his creativity, he said. He’s now composed five songs, and his head is always full of ideas. He has two videos on YouTube, including one for a song titled “Mother, Oh Mother.” Matta wrote the music, and his sister composed the lyrics. The video, which shows Matta’s masterful guitar playing in action, was recorded at Botanica.

Now his children are grown. Adrian Matta, the restaurant’s namesake, is a physician’s assistant and will be married in July. Matta’s daughter is now attending law school at the University of Kansas.

The time is right to resume his musical career, he said. Ideally, his album will catch on in Lebanon and he’ll find his way back onto television with enough success to launch a tour through Europe, Africa and the United States.

“I love cooking and am good at it, but I have something I enjoy better,” he said. “I have to follow my dream.”

A new tenant for Adrian’s space

The Adrian’s Cafe space won’t be vacant for long, though.

It’s being taken over by Mike Choy, who also owns GangNam Korean Grill & Bar at 210 N. Washington in Old Town.

He’s hoping to have his new restaurant, which he’ll call GangNam Kitchen, ready to go in early September. It’ll serve a menu similar to the original restaurant’s but won’t have the individual grills at the tables. Instead, it will offer dishes that are a fusion of Korean food and other Asian specialties. It will also have an Asian salad bar.

Denise Neil: 316-268-6327, @deniseneil