Dining With Denise Neil

The Anchor’s sister restaurant, Fork & Fennel, opens soon in College Hill (VIDEO)

Fork & Fennel owner Schane Gross is putting the final touches on her soon-to-open restaurant in College Hill.
Fork & Fennel owner Schane Gross is putting the final touches on her soon-to-open restaurant in College Hill. The Wichita Eagle

Schane Gross is impulsive, she admits. And she’s also a thinker. An idea person. Someone whose mind is in constant motion.

That’s how she ended up with a third business, College Hill’s about-to-open Fork & Fennel at 3425 E. Douglas, despite the fact that she already owned one successful business and had just opened another. The Anchor, a popular downtown bar at 1109 E. Douglas, is about to turn 10. Douglas Avenue Chop Shop, a high-end butcher shop next door to the Anchor, opened earlier this year.

“This was an impulse, yes,” Gross said earlier this week while surrounded by noisy saws and construction dust at Fork & Fennel, which she hopes to have open by mid-October at the latest. “It’s just something for me to have fun with.”

She is having fun – and coming up with an idea a minute for the new restaurant, which she imagines as a neighborhood restaurant that will also be a destination for suburbanites. It’ll be casual but will offer French dishes and proteins such as rabbit and octopus (alongside beef, chicken and seafood).

It will have lots of beer, as Gross establishments tend to do, plus wine, whiskey and a full espresso bar. It will be bike-friendly in its attitude and decor. And it will use the cheeses and meats from the Douglas Avenue Chop Shop in its dishes.

“But it’s not going to be hoity-toity,” she said. “It’s going to be a neighborhood eating and drinking place.”

And there will be more. Gross’ vision for the restaurant includes a lush patio where the building’s drive-through once was, a garden that will stock the kitchen and provide a spot to teach neighborhood children about growing herbs and brambles, outdoor movies, private patio dinners for big groups, beer dinners, Sunday brunch – the ideas keep coming.

Gross took the building, which once held a Taco Tico, on a whim earlier this year. She knew she was stretched thin and probably shouldn’t, she said, but she did anyway.

She said she just wanted a place where she could try all the wild ideas that come to her each day. New menu items. New drink offerings. New kinds of events. When she’d try out her ideas at The Anchor, it’d usually just gum up the works, she said. The restaurant is so big and so busy and the kitchen is operating at its maximum capacity. The Anchor needs to return its focus to “good beer, pub grub and improved customer service,” and Gross knows it.

Fork & Fennel, which seats about 50, now will be her outlet, Gross said.

“This is where we get to do all the stuff we can’t do at the Anchor,” she said.

Her plan was to remodel the restaurant on a budget, and she has, she said, partially by embracing the concept of “up-cycling” or using salvaged materials for furniture and fixtures.

She bought new chairs and dishes, but she crafted some outdoor decorative fencing and pieces of the bar with wooden pallets and leftover stair pieces crowding the second floor at the Anchor, which Gross describes as an up-cycler’s paradise. That’s also where she found two long church pews that will serve as seating on either side of the restaurant.

The front of the espresso bar is fitted with pieces of metal salvaged from a barn in Harper. The tables once were in a Boston Market, then were in downtown’s Gelato Cafe. Gross bought them for the Anchor and now will sand them and use them at Fork & Fennel.

A local artist is helping her turn recycled bicycles into an outdoor lighting system, and staff gardener is using old metal wheel parts to create container gardens.

Gross shaved the Taco Tico-esque top off the building, planted a peach tree out front, enclosed the former drive-through to make patio space and painted the building an eye-catching gray-green called “Cast Iron.” The interior has metal chairs, the pews, an open kitchen and a color palette of purple and green inspired by a lychee fruit.

Gross’ chef, Brian Mangers, has developed the menu, which he and Gross wanted to fill with the types of dishes not widely available in Wichita.

Though it’s still a work in progress, an early copy of the menu lists small plates of pickled shrimp, grilled fennel, marinated feta and roasted bone marrow. Entrees include a Creekstone rib eye, a Red Wattle Porterhouse pork chop, coq a vin and lapin (rabbit) au vin. Customers can order artisan cheese plates and charcuterie, and the sandwich menu offers tortas, a bratwurst, one burger, and a tuna pan bagnat, which is served on a demi baguette with white tuna and anchovies.

Entrees will cost between $20 and $40, she said. Sandwiches will run $8 to $11. The restaurant will have six beers on tap plus another 45 in bottles.

A late-night menu, offered from 10 p.m. to midnight on Fridays and Saturdays, will include cold snack offerings such as olives and charcuterie.

“We’re going to do classic French dishes in a neighborhood setting,” Mangers said.

Lauren Smooth, who Gross has hired to serve double duty as floor manager and head gardener, also has lots of ideas for the future of Fork & Fennel, which she said will be unlike any restaurant Wichita has seen.

It’s opening next to popular College Hill Deli & Catering and down the street from the about-to-open Dempsey’s Burger Pub in Clifton Square.

Neighborhood folks will soon have many good choices just a bicycle ride away.

“The food culture in College Hill is going to evolve a lot in the next couple of months,” she said. “It’s so exciting.”