Dining With Denise Neil

Kansas cafe famous for Friday-night German buffet a total loss after Fourth of July flood

In October, I wrote about a tiny cafe in a tiny Kansas town, where a weekly German buffet had a big following.

The restaurant was called Main Street Cafe, and on Friday nights, locals and travelers would crowd in for a taste of Mennonite-style cooking that included homemade sausage, sliced brisket, sauerkraut, vareniki and lots of homemade pie.

I’m sorry to report that the cafe is no more.

Main Street Cafe, which Wendell Wedel and his wife, Linda, had run for 24 years in downtown Durham, population 106, was one of many businesses and homes flooded on July 4 when thunderstorms dumped rain on Marion County. The water in downtown Durham was three feet high.

The cafe, which sat about an hour north of Wichita, got 32 inches of water inside, Wedel said. In the days since the flood, it’s been gutted by cleanup crews, and now the space is “just basically a shell.”

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Wendell and Linda Wedel have owned Main Street Cafe in Durham since 1995. It was totaled in a Fourth of July flood. Denise Neil The Wichita Eagle

Wedel, who will turn 66 later this year, said he isn’t planning to reopen the cafe, though there’s a possibility someone else will.

“It’s time for me to slow down,” he said. “Not retire but slow down. That’s why I chose to not start the restaurant back up.”

Wedel opened Main Street Cafe in October 1995. A renowned local sausage maker, his friends and neighbors urged him to open a restaurant, and he eventually took over the cafe on the town’s gravel-lined main drag.

He added the buffet six years later and expanded into the building to his north three years after that. Since then, the cafe had become the social hub of the community, and so many people would show up on Friday nights, they would nearly double the town’s population for the night.

The storm and flood were unexpected, Wedel said. His son called him early on the Fourth of July to warn him about what was coming, Wedel said. He went to the cafe to check on things and it seemed like it might escape serious damage, but the water kept rising. Volunteers put sandbags in front of the cafe and tried to pump water out, but by 12:30 p.m., they realized it was a lost cause.

“I had no idea, would have never dreamed that Wednesday when we closed that would be my last day,” Wedel said. “They weren’t even forecasting that much rain.”

Wedel said he might keep his sausage-making business going, but he hopes that someone younger will step in and reopen the cafe. He’s talking to someone who’s considering it, he said.

In the meantime, a Wichita resident who grew up in Durham and still has land there has started a Go Fund Me campaign, hoping to raise money that will help whoever steps in get the cafe back up and running.

Shari Hand’s fundraiser is called “Save Main Street Cafe in Durham KS.” She hopes to raise $25,000.

She was busy over the weekend helping her father, who lives just a block from the restaurant, pump water out of his basement. She was distraught when she heard about the cafe, she said.

“I’ve been going to that little restaurant since long before Wendell and Linda purchased it,” she said. “That’s just kind of the center of the community.”

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.