Dining With Denise Neil

Owner of beloved Wichita diner facing serious health problems, his son is asking for help

A beloved member of the Wichita restaurant community is facing some serious health challenges, and now his son is asking Wichita for help.

Ernie Fincher, who started Fat Ernie’s Family Dining at 2806 S. Hydraulic nearly 20 years ago, has suffered two strokes in a little over a week, said his son, James Fincher. And that’s on top of the pancreatic cancer that Ernie has been battling since June.

The medical bills are going to be big, James said, and he’s not sure how much his father’s insurance will cover. He doesn’t want his mother, Cindy, to be buried under a mountain of bills, he said, and many people love his father. He decided over the weekend to start a GoFundMe campaign to help raise money to go toward his father’s medical expenses.

The campaign has been live for only about 24 hours and has already raised more than $10,650 toward a $50,000 goal. One contributor has pledged $10,000.

“My dad has been such a good guy to everybody,” James said. “He’s never turned away a hungry person in his life.”

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James Fincher, right, has started a GoFundMe campaign to help with medical bills for his father, Ernie Fincher, the founder of Fat Ernie’s Family Dining in Wichita. Courtesy photo eyJpdiI6IkpyR2lyMTZhelRHQndqeGtXNkRWNkE9PSIsInZhbHVlIjoiaUxvOVlnOXd1UXNINEFvOWlkUTNRenhQWkVhNU5ITVk5Q3BvUW5sRHBHMGFxckthWVlNYkR4dFpHN2p6Y05SMyIsIm1hYyI6IjFmN2EzYzExYWQwMmFhMWFjY2UxMDYwMzg3ODFhMmE1ZGFkOGMxOGQwMWI5MzZmYTE0M2RjYjYxY2NmMDcxYzcifQ==

Ernie, 59, had been a longtime cook in Wichita back in 2000, including at Southern Pines, which operated in the space near Hydraulic and Wassall Fat Ernie’s now occupies. When it closed, Ernie took over the spot with the goal of serving big plates of home cooking. Over the years, his Fat Ernie’s has become known for its fried chicken, catfish, burgers, pies and blue plate specials.

Ernie expanded the restaurant in 2008, taking over the space next door and adding another dining room. He was always a presence at the restaurant, said James, who also has worked there for years. But in June, Ernie’s coloring was off. He was diagnosed with stage 3 pancreatic cancer and went to Kansas City for treatment.

He still hadn’t gotten back to being himself, his son said. Then last week, he had a stroke. Another mini stroke followed two days ago.

“It’s really blown us all away,” he said.

Customers have been asking about Ernie and wondering what they can do, James said. Some of them are now contributing to the GoFundMe.

No matter what, James said, he will keep the restaurant going. He’s been running things ever since his father fell ill this summer and has no intention of letting the business go.

“He’s taught me everything I know,” James said. “I made sure to learn and listen to all that good stuff.”

Customers can find the GoFundMe campaign, titled “Help Fat Ernie,” at gofundme.com.

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.