Dining With Denise Neil

Koch’s star chef leaves job to oversee burgers and biscuits in Wichita

The chef who made everyone wish they worked at Koch so they could eat the gourmet food he was serving out of an employees-only cafe is now accessible to the public.

I wrote about Bill Crites in July, and the headline on the story about him was “It’s one of Wichita’s best new restaurants, but you can’t eat there.”

Crites, a culinary school graduate who got his start in top restaurants in Austin, was earning a reputation at Koch and beyond for his unique gourmet cooking, and that reputation caught the attention of Steven Gaudreau, who owns both Dempsey’s Burger Pub at 3700 E Douglas Ave., and the newer Dempsey’s Biscuit Co., which opened in Februrary at 3425 E. Douglas.

Gaudreau, who lives in Lawrence, had recently visited his Wichita restaurants and decided that, although he liked the direction they were heading, they could use some streamlining, updating and attention to detail. Crites, he and Dempsey's general manager Sebastian Gordon decided, was their man.

Crites left Koch last month and now holds the title of Executive Chef of all the Dempsey’s restaurants, including several that Gaudreau owns in other cities.

“I think he’s talented,” Gaudreau said. “He and I met several times for dinner, and we’re like-minded in what we like to eat and cook... We’re just tightening things up, improving the recipes and doing a lot of streamlining that needs to be done.”

Crites, an Ohio native and Army veteran who attended culinary school in Austin and was featured in a profile in Zagat, moved to Wichita after meeting, falling in love with and marrying a Wichita native, who was a waitress at a restaurant where he worked. He needed a job and found one at Koch.

There, he wowed workers with his always-changing menu, his gourmet, fresh dishes and his festive taco Fridays. Employees couldn’t believe they were eating cafeteria food, and friends of Koch workers begged for lunch invitations.

Crites said the Dempsey’s job will help him put all of his skills to work, and he’ll get to feed the general public again.

“I thought it would be a really good move, and I thought about it for quite a while,” Crites said. “My job at Koch was nice for a lot of reasons, but I was just anxious to be able to start interacting with the public here in Wichita.”

His first assignment is to focus on the Biscuit Co., a restaurant that serves Nashville-style hot chicken and biscuit sandwiches. There, he’s trying to improve recipes, develop consistency in the kitchen and update the menu. He’s adding some appetizers, developing dinner specials and improving the Sunday brunch.

He also will oversee a big change, coming soon. Dempsey’s Biscuit Co. will soon switch to a full-service restaurant in the evenings, meaning people will have servers at their tables rather than ordering at the counter. Counter service will stay in place during lunch.

Then, he’ll move over to Dempsey’s Burger Pub and study and improve their menu and processes.

“Honestly, I’m completely thrilled,” Crites said. “I couldn’t be happier working with these guys, and I’m very excited with the direction we’re going to take the food.”

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