How long from west Wichita to downtown? Too long, nowadays
Bishop’s Family Dining, a cafeteria-style buffet restaurant that opened in 2004 at 4200 W. Kellogg, closed on Sunday, and west Kellogg construction was one of the main factors, the owner said.
Luu Le said that although his core customers had figured out a path to his restaurant, which is sandwiched between Kellogg and the recently closed Kmart building, business had dropped significantly with all the recent ramp closures nearby.
“When the construction started, business dropped off quite a bit, then on top of that Kmart closed their doors, and that made it worse,” he said.
Le, who’d worked with Furr’s Cafeteria for 20 years before he opened Bishop’s, said that cafeteria-style restaurants also are on their way out. Most of his customers were elderly, and he wasn’t attracting a younger demographic.
Plus, the labor market is so tight, he said, that he was unable to find new employees and had been working seven days a week. On Monday, the first day the restaurant was closed, he said he slept until 3 p.m.
His plan is to find another line of work outside of the restaurant business, possibly working in homeless outreach. Le was known for his annual Saturday-before-Thanksgiving dinners, where he would close Bishop’s down for three hours and invite Wichita’s homeless population to come eat for free. Around 300 people would be bused from downtown to his restaurant for the dinners.
He tried to organize one last meal for the homeless community before he closed but couldn’t get the bus schedule worked out. He said he hoped another local restaurant would pick up where he left off and try to put a similar dinner on this year. Le, who came to the United States from Vietnam in 1975 with nothing, then went to college at the University of Kansas before starting in the restaurant business, said the dinner was a way for him to give back to the community that accepted him.
“I wish other restaurants could do that, and maybe take turns,” he said. “I know it’s hard when you work for a corporation or for an individual business owner, but we make decent money compared to the homeless. For them it’s pretty tough. At least we don’t sleep under bridge at least we have home to go to.”
He said the hardest part of closing was having to tell his 12 employees, some of whom have worked for him since opening day.
“It’s hard,” he said. “This is what I’ve been doing my whole life.”