Dining With Denise Neil

Wichita’s Texas Roadhouse so popular, its sales are tops in the country. What gives?

A waitress prepares to deliver food from the Texas Roadhouse kitchen in 2007, three years after the west-side restaurant opened.
A waitress prepares to deliver food from the Texas Roadhouse kitchen in 2007, three years after the west-side restaurant opened. File photo

Back when Texas Roadhouse first opened at 6707 W. Kellogg in December 2004, I was skeptical.

Sure, meaty restaurants are usually a hit in Wichita. But this one had a few strikes already. It was opening on the west side, rather than on the city’s more posh east side. Worse, it was built on a lot that was pretty difficult to get to because of its weird location on a Kellogg access road. West-bound diners would need to know to drive past the restaurant on Kellogg, exit on Ridge then make a U-turn. East-bounders waiting to see the restaurant before they exited would overshoot it and have to make not one but two U-turns to get back to it.

That doesn’t usually work around here. Plus, Wichita already had (and still has) dozens of other casual chain steak restaurants serving menus populated with steaks, salads, sandwiches, burgers, etc. It was hardly a novelty.

Good luck, I thought.

Now, 14 years later, Wichita’s second Texas Roadhouse has just opened on the other, more posh side of town. Its first day was Monday at 2526 N. Greenwich.

And it’s more clear now than ever that I was wrong to ever doubt.

So wrong.

So very, very wrong.

Since the first day it opened, not only were Wichita diners able to find the West Kellogg Texas Roadhouse, but they found it in droves. Even now, anyone who drives past the restaurant – no matter the time, day of the week or season – will always see people milling about outside, clearly not able to fit inside the already packed lobby to wait for their tables.

We’re not just imagining it. When I spoke to the west-side restaurant’s managing partner, Kyle Hauber, earlier this week, he confirmed that there’s rarely been a night in 14 years that people weren’t waiting to be seated. The restaurant has been added onto twice since it opened – once in 2009 and then again in 2014 – increasing the seating from an initial 300 to 400 now. And that didn’t even make a difference. On weeknights, a minimum wait is still about 25 to 45 minutes. On the weekends, it could be an hour or two.

Among the 600 restaurants in the Kentucky-based Texas Roadhouse chain, Hauber said, Wichita’s west-side restaurant is the No. 1 performing store. Technically, there are three that outsell them, but those restaurants are open for both lunch and dinner during the week. Wichita’s is open only for dinner.

We’re talking Olive Garden levels of hysteria, here.

“Ever since we opened up, it’s just been crazy busy,” Hauber said. “And I know a lot of restaurants kind of have that honeymoon period then sales start to decrease. But every year for 14 years, we’ve increased sales and we’ve increased head count.”

What in the name of peanut shells on the floor is going on here?

That’s what I wondered after just a few months of watching the lines grow longer and longer at the West Kellogg store. Four weeks after it opened –in January of 2005 – I visited for an official review.

To me, it was clear immediately what people had been standing in line for: Those rolls.

Texas Roadhouse servers bring to every table a basket of the most incredible, most hot, most heavenly yeast rolls ever baked, and every basket comes with a cup of sweet cinnamon butter waiting for slathering. And they’ll bring you as many as you want.

There may be a few other reasons for the hysteria, I have decided over the years. The restaurant serves big portions at decent prices. The service is consistent, and there’s plenty of parking. Wichita really likes nothing better.

Not even the complaints that diners most frequently lodge about the restaurant – the peanut shell-covered floors, the overly loud dining room, the periodic “spontaneous” line dancing that’s gotten increasingly less enthusiastic over the years – makes people stop lining up.

Hauber, who took over as managing partner a year ago, was the kitchen manager when the restaurant first opened. He also was amazed that the crowds just kept coming.

“It’s been a blessing,” he said. “I don’t really know how to explain it other than the great people we have working here. We have a lot of original employees that have been here for 14 years.”

Earlier this week, I asked some of Wichita’s many, many Texas Roadhouse fans to tell me what they thought the restaurant’s secret was, and I got many replies.

Most pointed to the consistent service.

“Service is always great, salads are crisp and cool, baked 'taters are hot and fluffy and the rolls are tasty too,” said Mike Barton. “Prices are comparatively fair so it's worth the wait for a good meal and a great experience.”

The steak is high quality, many said, and the price is also a draw. A family on a budget can enjoy a nice meal out for far less than they’d pay at at some of the city’s higher-end steakhouses. Steaks, which come with choice of two sides, range from $10.49 for a 6-ounce sirloin go $26.99 for a 23-ounce Porterhouse.

“Not everyone can afford the other steakhouses in Wichita,” said Glenda Fredericksen. “It is good food and they know customer service.”

Still, don’t similar restaurants like Logan’s and Longhorn and Outback also have all those qualities?

They do, noted some who responded to my query.

But they don’t have those rolls.

“Those buttery little rolls have gotten so addictive that my sister would hide the bread basket behind the condiments and drink menus on the table in hopes that the server would bring more for us to stuff in our to-go boxes,” said Cheyenne Schroeder. “I'm sure we could have asked, but where's the fun in that?”

Now that Wichita has a second Texas Roadhouse, some customers are hoping (and some managers are fearing) that the 14 years of nuttiness on West Kellogg will finally subside a bit.

When the possibility of a second Texas Roadhouse was originally floated, a spot on East Kellogg was the leading contender, and that made West Kellogg nervous, Hauber said.

But earlier this week, he drove from the front door of his restaurant to the front door of the new east-side restaurant, and it was a long, long drive, he said.

His prediction: The east-side will soon be just as crazy as the west.

“It remains to be seen,” he said. “But we had another great night last night, even with them opening.”

Texas Roadhouse fan Jessica DeVader said that even though she’s not a fan of the line dancing, the service and prices at Texas Roadhouse are great. A manager has stopped to check on her table every time she’s visited.

“I honestly don't think that having one open on the east side is going to put a dent in the business of the west side location,” she said.

Texas Roadhouse managing partner Mike Parrotino explains each of the new restaurant’s Wichita murals, which feature the chain’s mascot, Andy the Armadillo. The new restaurant opens near K-96 and Greenwich at 3 p.m. on Monday. Carrie Rengers/The Wi

Texas Roadhouse

Address: 6707 W. Kellogg (316-943-8722) and 2526 N. Greenwich (316-634-1106)

Hours: 3 to 10 p.m. Mondays through Thursdays, 3 to 11 p.m. Fridays; 11 a.m. to 11 p.m. Saturdays: 11 a.m. to 10 p.m. Sundays

Reservations: Not accepted, but call-ahead seating is available

Website: www.texasroadhouse.com

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