The latest restaurant trend to fly into Wichita, in case you hadn’t noticed, is chicken.
New chicken places — specializing in chicken tenders, chicken wings, chicken and waffles, fried chicken, smoked chicken, grilled chicken — have been opening at a fast clip over the past year (Slim Chickens, Cowboy Chicken, Chick N Max, Buffalo Wings & Rings), and more are on their way (Chicken N Pickle, another Chick-fil-A, the return of Church’s Chicken).
Although chicken is the Wichita restaurant market’s latest trendy obsession, it’s hardly the first.
I’ve been covering the restaurant scene for 18 years, and I’ve seen the trends come and go. We’re all obsessed with self-serve frozen yogurt one day, and the next, all the shops are gone and we’ve moved on to rolled ice cream.
Some trends last longer than others. Some are even still around.
In honor of Wichita’s chicken explosion, I decided to take a fun look back at some of the restaurant trends that came and went in Wichita over the past two decades — as well as some that came to stay.
Sweet potato fries: When The Anchor opened at 1109 E. Douglas in 2004, it soon added a food menu that made it a Wichita favorite. One of the reasons: the restaurant’s addictive sweet potato fries, which it became known for. Today, sweet potato fries are commonplace on menus all over town, from burger pubs to barbecue joints.
Hot dogs: For a brief period in the late 2000s, several Wichita restaurateurs opened hot dog restaurants. First, there was Let’s Be Frank, a little hot dog place at 2425 E. Douglas that opened in 2009 (and later changed its name to Get Franked and then later moved and changed its name to And The Wiener Is). Then, 2010 saw the arrival of a hot dog restaurant and bar called Linkhaus, whose owners erected a fancy new building at 7817 E. 37th St. North, as well as Dog House Carryout at 707 N. Mt. Carmel and Bierocks, Brats & BBQ at 1225 W. Douglas. It was all pretty much hot dog history by 2013.
Self-serve frozen yogurt: It all stated in 2010 when Orange Leaf, a frozen yogurt chain that allowed people to dispense their own yogurt and add their own toppings, moved into Wichita. By 2011, Wichita had four Orange Leaf stores, which were among nearly a dozen frozen yogurt purveyors operating in town, including Peachwave, CherryBerry and Yogurt Xplosion. By 2016, it was over, though. In October of that year, the last remaining Orange Leaf store closed at 21st and Tyler. Only a couple of self-serve shops still survive today. Latecomer Yo-B is still freezing along at 301 N. Mead in Old Town Square, and one Peachwave store is still open at 10096 E. 13th St. North.
Food trucks: Believe it or not, before December of 2011, the only food trucks in Wichita were little taco trucks parked on the north end. But when brothers Jeff and Rob Schauf first opened The Flying Stove on a cold December day in 2012, they officially launched the food truck trend in Wichita. Seven years later, the Stovers are still leaders of the food truck community, and Wichita boasts dozens and dozens of trucks, selling everything from Korean food to lumpia to burgers to tacos. With more trucks joining the fleet every year and rallies and food truck parks popping up all over town, this is a trend that shows no signs of slowing down.
Craft beer: Besides food trucks, craft beer is probably the biggest trend to hit Wichita in the last 20 years. River City Brewing Co. was the Wichita pioneer when it started brewing beer in Old Town in 1993. In 2011, Greg Gifford and Jeremy Horn started Wichita Brewing Co., and a modern trend was born. Craft breweries have been popping up every year since, and now Wichita can claim as its own Central Standard, Hopping Gnome, Third Place, Limestone, Aero Plains, and Nortons.
Truffle fries: Once sweet potato fries were firmly entrenched on Wichita menus, restaurants started adding a little truffle oil to the proceedings. Truffle fries really took off in 2012, when The Flying Stove’s version became a local obsession. The Anchor added them, and so did AVI, Wine Dive, Harvest and Dempsey’s.
Coffee shops: When Starbucks first opened a free-standing Wichita store at Central and Rock back in 2003, the city already had several locally owned coffee shops that had grown up in the “Friends” era, including the Riverside Perk, Il Primo, Java Villa and The Bean Scene. But when Starbucks arrived and then kept adding stores, coffee became an even hotter trend in Wichita, and locally owned coffee shops (Reverie, Espresso to Go Go, Sente, Ecclesia, Want Coffee, R Coffeehouse), chain coffee shops (Scooter’s) and coffee trucks (Sunflower Espresso, Espresso Self, Kookaburra, Camion) have not stopped opening since. Even the new library has a coffee shop.
Build-your-own: Chipotle popularized the build-your-own concept, where people travel down a line and point to the ingredients they want in their dishes, and Wichita got its first Chipotle in July 2003. After that, build-your-own became a bona fide trend, and Wichita could soon build even more burritos (Freebirds World Burrito, Blue River Mexican Grill, Qdoba), pizza (Pie Five), salads (Doc Greens), Vietnamese food (Spring Ro), and more recently, poke (Poke Mix.)
Rolled ice cream: The rolled ice cream trend is a fairly recent one in Wichita. It started last summer when 8 Below first opened to long lines in Union Station, 701 E. Douglas. Since then, 8 Below has opened two more shops — one at 2929 N. Rock Road and one at 1821 E. Madison Ave. in Derby. Kansas City-based chain Freezing Moo also has entered the market, opening a shop at Greenwich Place and then recently at NewMarket Square.
Food delivery: For a long time, the only way Wichitans could get food delivered to home or work was by ordering chain pizza or Kung Pao chicken. But over the last year, that’s changed. A whole bunch of food delivery services have moved into the market, and it sounds like another one or more could be on the way. Wichita added Wichita2Go and Fetch Neighbor in spring 2016. And national players UberEats and Grubhub both entered the market after that. The services will — for a fee — deliver food from dozens of Wichita restaurants (and counting) right to a front door or office.
And a few mini-trends
Though these weren’t full-fledged trends, a couple of businesses selling the following items started mini-trends over the past several years:
Hawaiian food: In the spring of 2015, Noble House moved into town with its food truck selling “Hawaiian plate lunch” and poke. Not long after, the owner opened a stationary Noble House at 3238 E. Douglas. Then, Poke Mix opened, focusing on a build-your-own version of the Hawaiian favorite. Most recently, Mo’s Hut, a food trailer that bills itself as a Hawaiian bbq, has hit the streets, serving things like barbecue chicken, chicken katsu, teriyaki beef and barbecue short ribs.
Homemade Pop Tarts: In 2017, a few local businesses started selling their own house-made versions of the Pop Tart: Homegrown at 2835 N. Maize Road; Milkfloat at 535 W. Douglas; and Green Acres at 8141 E. 21st St.
Cold-pressed juice: In March 2016, entrepreneur Marty Spence helped introduce the juicing trend in Wichita with her cold-pressed juice business Songbird Juice Co., which operates at 1142 N. Bitting in Riverside. That same year, Austin Dugan launched his cold-pressed juice cart he called 86 Cold Press. He now has a big juice shop and cafe at 612 E. Douglas and just opened a second juice shop inside Healing Waters at Bradley Fair.