It was November 2014, and Erica Lopez-Davis and her dad, Luis "Big Lou" Lopez, had just signed the papers to take over the restaurant space at 220 S. Commerce, just steps from Intrust Bank Arena.
They were sitting at their nearby bar, Emerson Biggins, when they heard the news: First-round NCAA tournament games would happen in Wichita in 2018.
The planning started that day — and continued for the next three-plus years.
"When they announced it, we had just started," she said. "We were like, 'Hooray!"
Now, the duo is about to find out if it was all worth it. They've set up a huge fan party outside of their bar that they're hoping will draw hungry and thirsty basketball fans by the thousands during the next several days.
Lou's Place is among several near-arena restaurants that are putting on big shows for basketball fans in town for the tournament. They're putting up tents, hiring DJs, and carting in giant big screen televisions just for tournament time.
At nearby Mumbai Rail, which is within walking distance of the arena at Union Station, a big party with bands and kids activities is planned. And over in Clifton Square, accessible by the Q-Line during the tournament, Ziggy's Pizza has put up a giant white tent full of picnic tables, beer taps and brackets that it's calling "Ziggy's Basketball Hub."
At Lou's, where setup was still happening on Wednesday, KU fans started streaming over as soon as practice let out, following the beats of the music blaring through the afternoon air. On Thursday, the party starts for real.
The restaurant has hired 36 additional workers just for the next several days, and they've recruited friends, former employees, anyone who was willing to serve the crowds.
Louis Lopez will be smoking 200 slabs of ribs outside, and Lou's extended its patio with tables and chairs and outside beer vendors. They'll even have margaritas and wine on tap, and a giant projection screen on the patio will broadcast the games.
"We can say, 'We planned Wichita's biggest party ever, and we did it right next to this monster,'" Lopez-Davis said, motioning at the arena next door.
Several restaurants that aren't planning big basketball to-dos are extending their hours to welcome fans. Here's a look at who's doing what:
Restaurants throwing basketball parties
Lou's Place, 220 S. Commerce: The arena-adjacent restaurant has turned into a basketball party zone with food, an outside beer trailer, an extended patio filled with plush furniture, giant screens, an outdoor beer trailer, cocktails and wine on tap, and games.
Mumbai Rail, 711 E. Douglas: This Indian bistro is putting on a big party that will include an Indian buffet, live music on the patio and big screens showing games both inside and outside. Admission is $20 for adults and $10 for kids, and the party is from Thursday through Saturday, and the party will be open until 2 am. It will also have a kids fun zone with inflatables, plinko, cornhole and more from noon to 6 pm. Thursday through Saturday.
Ziggy's Pizza, 3700 E. Douglas: This restaurant in Clifton Square (where the free Q-Line trolley will be dropping off fans) has a 40x20-foot tent sent up off of its patio that it's calling "Ziggy's Basketball Hub." It runs from 11 a.m. to midnight Thursday through Saturday and features multiple outdoor television sets, prizes, giveaways and an outdoor beer garden. Food will be served in the tent.
Wichita Brewing Company: This restaurant isn't near the arena — except this week. The pizzeria is putting up a mobile location and will throw a big fan party nightly through Saturday in two parking lots west of the arena, off Emporia. It will include the restaurant's mobile pizza oven, beer and food from Noble House food truck. It'll also have television screens, music and games. The mobile restaurant will be open from 9 a.m. to midnight Thursday and Friday and also will run late into the evening on Saturday.
Restaurants extending their hours
The Anchor, 1109 E. Douglas: This near-arena bar will be open starting at 9 a.m. to accommodate basketball fans during the tournament It'll be serving Bloody Marys and a limited kitchen menu, including biscuit sandwiches, biscuits and gravy, breakfast burritos and more.
Doo-Dah Diner, 206 E. Kellogg: This breakfast and lunch spot normally closes at 2 p.m. but it will stay open until 4 p.m. Thursday through Saturday.
Piatto, 1706 E. Douglas: This restaurant usually isn't open for lunch, but it will be during the tournament. The pizza place will open at 11 a.m. Thursday through Saturday.
Hopping Gnome, 1710 E. Douglas: This brewery will be opening at noon on Thursday through Saturday. It usually opens later on Thursdays and Fridays.
Central Standard Brewing, 156 S. Greenwood: This brewery also will be opening at noon through Sunday. It usually opens later on Fridays.