Dining With Denise Neil

Restaurants We Miss: Albert's Restaurant gave Wichita an early taste of Chinese food

This photo inside Albert's Restaurant was taken in 1954.
This photo inside Albert's Restaurant was taken in 1954. Courtesy photo

The list of restaurants that Wichita has to choose from in 2018 is long and diverse, and it gets longer and more diverse every day.

But people who have lived in Wichita for years, even decades, often grow wistful for a simpler time. And one of their favorite pastimes is fondly remembering once-loved restaurants that have been closed for years.

As part of an occasional series called "Restaurants We Miss," I'm going to resurface old stories about restaurants Wichita once loved. The first subject is Albert's Restaurant, a beloved Chinese restaurant that operated in Wichita from 1947 until it closed in the summer of 2001.

Today, the spot where Albert's once stood is filled with cars for sale by a nearby car lot. But once, it was the place to go for Chinese food. It even inspired this 1991 Letter to the Editor from then-U.S. Rep. Dan Glickman.

No matter where I go, I take a bit of Wichita with me. After all, Wichita has the best of everything. For instance, traveling in China and eating nothing but Chinese food, I realized the Chinese had it all wrong. The best Chinese food in the world was not in China, it was at Albert's Restaurant in Wichita. I was so sure Albert's food was the best, I called him from China to tell him so. No food tastes better than food from home. Wichita is what I'm all about. While working in Washington, I'm always on the go. But when I'm back home, among friends and family, even a hectic schedule is a cakewalk. There is just something about being back home in Wichita and Kansas that makes everything more enjoyable and relaxing.

This article about Albert's closing was originally published in The Eagle on July 13, 2001, and was written by then-business reporter Dan Voorhis.

ALBERT'S CHINESE RESTAURANT CLOSES THE RESTAURANT, WHICH HELPED CHANGE WICHITA'S EATING HABITS, SHUTS ITS DOORS AFTER 54 YEARS IN BUSINESS

In 1947, Wichita was largely a city of diners and steakhouses. And then came Albert's Restaurant. The elegant Chinese restaurant with its black booths and red lacquered walls gave Wichita one of its first real tastes of international cuisine. Albert's closed Monday after 54 years, the victim of aging owners and a tight job market.

Founded by Albert Mar on North Hillside Avenue, it moved to Kellogg and Woodlawn in 1953. Cornell Mar, Albert Mar's nephew, and his wife, Sharon, took over the restaurant in 1963. They've run it ever since.

"When it opened, it was a novelty to have Chinese food," said Bob Puckett, director of the Wichita/Sedgwick County Historical Museum and a 40-year fan of Albert's. "There were a few others . . . but this was the finest Chinese restaurant in town."

In a town that now boasts Russian, Lebanese and Thai restaurants, Albert's doesn't seem exotic. But in its time, Chinese food was pretty revolutionary. That's why the Mars always served a full American menu: steaks, hamburgers, prime rib. "I could only go half way," Cornell Mar said. "I couldn't make it on Chinese food alone." In its prime, it was one of the nicest restaurants in town, pulling in the local elite and national celebrities, such as Tarzan-portrayer Johnny Weissmuller and TV actor Bob Cummings, when they were in Wichita.

The restaurant inspired tremendous loyalty among many of these customers. Joy Walker of west Wichita said she'd go as often as once a week. The food was certainly good, she said, but it was the people that made it a favorite. "They had this display with candy bars and gum by the register," Walker said. "Every time I'd leave that restaurant they'd say, 'Here, Joy,' and they'd stick a couple of candy bars or some gum in my purse."

But time and progress has conspired against Albert's. Business fell as Chinese restaurants' mounting buffets multiplied, help became harder to find and the prospect of Kellogg freeway construction in front of the restaurant loomed. And after 40 years, they got tired of working 80 hours a week. The Mars' children, Jay and Glenda, had worked at the restaurant since they were children and didn't want to take it over. The Mars didn't want to make a big deal out of the closing on Monday, but word leaked out and old friends showed up all day long.

They ate, drank, cried and gave hugs - a fitting farewell to one of Wichita's restaurant pioneers.

A look at 10 of the Wichita restaurants that closed in 2017.

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