Dining With Denise Neil

Wichita restaurant that burned down in 2017 arson fire about to reopen in new spot

It’s been more than a year since Petra Mediterranean Restaurant at 6140 E. 21st St. burned down in a two-alarm arson fire that its owners suspected at the time was a hate crime.

Shortly after the fire was extinguished back in November 2017, owners Ranya Taha and Bashar Mahanweh found the words “Go back” spray painted in big letters on a storage unit behind the restaurant.

They always planned to re-open Petra, but it took longer than they thought it would, Taha said. They recently settled on a new spot not too far from the original location, and Petra should reopen “very soon,” she said. It will take over a space at 535 N. Woodlawn that several years ago was home to another business called Petra Cafe.

It’s just a coincidence, Taha said, but all the signage is still there.

The new Petra will also be called Petra Cafe, and it will have the same menu as the restaurant that burned down did, focusing on Mediterranean and Arabic dishes. But there will be one difference. Taha and Mahanweh are planning to operate two businesses in one. Half of the space will be a dedicated hookah bar that will also serve food.

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Ranya Taha found the words “Go back” spray painted on a back storage shed after an arson fire in 2017. Travis Heying File photo

But Taha wants to make it clear that the restaurant side will be completely separate and closed off from the hookah side and will remain smoke-free.

The path back to reopening Petra was a long and difficult one, she said, and at times, she wanted to just let it go.

“At one time, I told my husband, ‘Just forget about this,’” she said. “But he was very determined and said ‘We’re going to do it.’ And my daughters said, ‘We’re going to do it.’”

In the meantime, the couple has closed their Omar’s Kitchen at 2801 W. Central, which they opened in March. Though they partnered with the owner of The Light Dry Bar & Grill last month to run it, she can’t keep up without their help, and the couple is too focused on opening Petra to give Omar’s any attention, Taha said.

They’ll still cater out of Omar’s and say it’s possible they’ll reopen it someday.

I’ll let you know when there’s an opening date for the new Petra Cafe.

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.