Anyone who drives on west-bound Kellogg has likely noticed the dramatic dismantling of the former Bishop’s Family Dining building, which has been vacant since Bishop’s owner Luu Le closed the restaurant in June 2017.
And although it’s unlikely anyone is surprised that the building — which sits in an abandoned parking lot of an abandoned Kmart — is being torn down, it’s still kind of sad to see another piece of a once-bustling area meet its end.
That’s certainly true for Le, who first noticed his old friend being taken apart — its roof gone and its stone fireplace visible from the highway — when he drove past a few weeks ago.
He’s driven by several times more and even stopped to chat with the workers on the site, he said.
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“There are a lot of memories there,” he said. “We made a good living. The majority of restaurants do not survive the first year, and we were there for 12 years.”
The property that Bishop’s was on is now owned by developers Christian Ablah and Brad Seville, who have talked about plans to redevelop the dying Towne West Shopping Center area.
But that area was anything but dead in 1981, when the Bishop’s building went up. Back then, cafeterias were in their heyday, and the building opened as a Furr’s Cafeteria. An ad from a 1981 edition of the Eagle announcing the restaurant’s impending opening seeks “cooks, bakers and salad makers” to “join us for an exciting future!”
Back then, Le worked for the Furr’s chain, and there were several in Wichita, including at 21st and Amidon, at Pawnee and Broadway, and inside the Wichita Mall.
Cafeterias were different than the buffets people are accustomed to now, and diners would go through a line and choose plated dishes a la carte. At the end of the line, they’d pay for each item individually.
Back then, Wichita also had Wyatt’s Cafeterias and Luby’s Cafeterias.
“In the ’60s up to the late 1990s, cafeterias were a really big segment of the restaurant world,” Le said. “In those days, cafeterias didn’t have a lot of competition. They didn’t have Applebee’s or Chili’s or anything like that yet.”
But the advent of the buffet — where people could get all the food they wanted for one price — killed the cafeteria concept, Le said. Furr’s restaurants all over Wichita were closing, and by 2002, the West Kellogg restaurant was shuttered.
The building sat vacant for two years before Le was approached by Bishops, which was a Furr’s sister company, and asked if he’d like to operate one in Wichita. He agreed and opened the family-style buffet restaurant in 2004. A year later, that company was struggling, too, and it sold the restaurant to Le.
For years, Bishop’s was busy, he said. Le had a solid customer base, and he became well known for his annual Saturday-before-Thanksgiving dinners, when he would close the restaurant for three hours and feed the homeless for free. But West Kellogg construction, which included ramp closures and made it hard for people to navigate their way to Bishops, hurt business. When the Kmart closed last spring, that was it for Bishop’s, Le said.
He doesn’t regret any of his time spent in the restaurant, Le said, and watching the building go is difficult.
When he chatted up the workers on the site, Le said, they told him that the wood from the building was salvaged, and that made him feel a bit better.
“One thing I really miss about the building is the dining room,” he said. “It was just so beautiful. It was all made of wood and had tall ceilings. They don’t make them like that anymore.”