It was noon on Friday, and Kelly’s Family Diner at 2131 S. Broadway was empty.
A lone customer was sitting in the big dining room of the restaurant, which Kelly and Dewaine Wilson opened in the former Mike’s Steak House spot in late 2017.
Kelly was despondent. She vented on Facebook.
“I just don’t understand. It’s 12:00 on a Friday and this is what we have,” she wrote, along with a photo of the empty dining room.
Meanwhile, she said, another family restaurant “down the street” (presumably Gabel’s Family Restaurant at Pawnee and Seneca) was packed.
“We r clean and the food is really good,” she wrote. “I just don’t know what to do. Can’t do it much longer.”
That day, the restaurant had maybe three customers total, Kelly said.
By Monday, Kelly was still in disbelief. But it was no longer about how empty her restaurant was. It was about how empathetic and supportive people in Wichita were.
In response to the post, people flooded her business on Saturday and again on Sunday. For the first time since she opened more than a year ago, she had a line of people waiting to get a seat.
“It did a complete 180,” she said.
Kelly, a former cashier at Don’s Restaurant., and Dewaine, a Beacon cook of 15 years, have hustled for customers since the beginning. They remodeled the restaurant completely (it now has a no-frills, small-town diner feel) and regularly post on social media tantalizing photos of their home-cooking specials, from chicken fried steak with mashed potatoes (their best seller) to biscuits and gravy to open-faced roast beef sandwiches.
As of Monday, Kelly’s desperate Facebook post from Friday had 249 comments and had been shared 1,445 times.
People who responded were overall encouraging and told her to hang in there. Some recounted good meals they’d had there. Many others offered advice. Their main two suggestions: advertise more and stay open longer. At the moment, the diner is open only from 7 a.m. to 3 p.m.
On Monday, Kelly was still giddy and said she is taking those suggestions seriously. Come spring, the diner likely will extend its hours later into the evening.
The power of compassion — and of social media — is strong in Wichita, she said.
“It’s unbelievably crazy,” she said. “I’m so freaking grateful for everyone in Wichita that came out.”
Kelly’s story is reminiscent of another instance of Wichita stepping up for a local restaurant, which happened last month when Parsnipity Cafe owner Cynthia Wilson shared her restaurant’s struggles with the HuffPost.
Her business was significantly down during the government shutdown, which was keeping federal workers out of their offices in the Epic Center, where Wilson’s cafe operates.
She told the publication she wasn’t sure how much longer she could make it. Over the next several days, she was packed with customers, was able to pay some bills and give her employees some hours back.
The uptick has continued for a month.
“I think we’ve turned a real corner,” Wilson said recently. “People suddenly know we’re here.”