Dining With Denise Neil

Wichita’s oldest still-operating restaurant paying homage to its 109-year history

Livingston Diner’s homage to its 109-year-old history

Wichita artist Mark Pendergrass is painting a mural of a 1910 photo taken at the original Livingston's Diner on the wall of its 2019 location.
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Wichita artist Mark Pendergrass is painting a mural of a 1910 photo taken at the original Livingston's Diner on the wall of its 2019 location.

Livingston’s Diner, we established a few years back, is Wichita’s oldest still-operating restaurant.

Andy Livingston opened the first Livingston’s in 1910 at 310 N. Emporia. Now it’s 2019, and Wichita still has two Livingston’s. One is Livingston’s Diner at 9747 E. 21st St., and it’s owned by Jeanne Shaft, the widow of founder Andy Livingston’s grandson, Bob.

Recently, Shaft decided to pay homage to the restaurant’s history by having a muralist paint on the dining room wall a reproduction of the oldest photo the family has of the original cafe.

It’s a typical black-and-white photograph taken at a restaurant during that era: Well-dressed, serious waitresses stand at attention behind a row of tables covered in white tablecloths. On the other side of the restaurant, which features a tin ceiling and tile floors, three equally serious employees stand behind the bar, one posted at the giant old cash register.

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A muralist is recreating this photo from 1910, when Livingston’s first opened in Wichita. Courtesy photo

Artist Mark Pendergrass has been working on the mural all week, Shaft said, and he’ll also be painting another hallway mural. Customers have enjoyed watching him paint while they dine, Shaft said, and they can continue to do so through the end of the week.

Shaft had the original photo blown up and framed when she first moved into her new space at 21st and Webb two years ago, she said, but it needed an even more prominent place.

“We decided it needed to be even bigger,” she said.

She commissioned Pendergrass, who also painted a big Kansas-themed mural in the restaurant. Livingston said she loves the way the new mural is turning out. It looks like you could walk right into the old diner.

Shaft said she doesn’t have a lot of information about the old photo but wishes she did. It’s been in the family for decades, and she loves to look at it.

Pendergrass’ hallway mural will feature an image of founders Andy and Tina Livingston smiling with a tray laden with a double cheeseburger and fries.

Another mural featuring Livingston’s founders Andy and Tina Livingston will be added to a hallway in the current diner. Courtesy photo

A little summary of Livingston’s long Wichita history: After the original Livingston’s closed, it moved around downtown over the years, and eventually Andy’s son, Gene, took over the business. But Gene had health problems and his doctor told him he needed to get out of the restaurant business. Livingston’s was closed for 12 years.

In the 1960s, Gene’s son, Bob, decided to revive the business he’d grown up in. He opened a new Livingston’s at Kellogg and Poplar but moved the restaurant several more times over the years. In 1992, Bob and Jeanne opened Jeanne’s Cafe, then in 2005, they added a Livingston’s Diner at 832 N. Webb Road. In 2017, Livingston’s moved to the new location.

Bob died in 2012.

His daughter – founder Andy Livingston’s great-granddaughter, Melissa Atkinson — owns Livingston’s Cafe at 4733 E. Douglas.

Denise Neil has covered restaurants and entertainment since 1997. Her Dining with Denise Facebook page is the go-to place for diners to get information about local restaurants. She’s a regular judge at local food competitions and speaks to groups all over Wichita about dining.