Dining With Denise Neil

Willie C’s Cafe coming back to life – for one night

Willie C’s was a Wichita dining destination during the late 1980s and early 1990s. It’s former owner is bringing its dishes back for one night. This picture is from 1999.
Willie C’s was a Wichita dining destination during the late 1980s and early 1990s. It’s former owner is bringing its dishes back for one night. This picture is from 1999. File photo

Willie C’s Cafe is coming back to life – but just for one evening.

The owners of the restaurant, which was one of Wichita’s most popular dining destinations during its heyday in the late 1980s and early 1990s, closed its last location in 2008. But Bill Rowe, who now owns Blue Moon Caterers in Wichita, is bringing its most popular dishes back for a buffet he’ll serve on the evening of Friday, April 15.

“A week doesn’t go by that I don’t have people talk about it and whatever it meant in their life,” Rowe said of Willie C’s. “There are so many stories. It’s a feel-good thing for me. It was a huge part of my life for a long time.”

The buffet will be put on at Rowe’s event center – Villa Luna at 8406 W. Central – and it will feature Willie C’s favorites like chicken fried steak, stacked enchiladas, quesadillas, grilled burritos, meat loaf, fajitas, baked potato soup, chicken nubbins and Willie’s cheese fries. Beer and margaritas also will be served.

Rowe founded Willie C’s in 1985 and modeled it after a Texas-style cafe. At one time, he had five restaurants including an east-side restaurant on the perimeter of Towne East square and a west-side restaurant at 656 S. West St., just north of the West street exit on Kellogg. He also had Willie C’s in Topeka, Lawrence and St. Joseph Mo.

He closed the out-of-Wichita restaurants in the late 1990s, followed by the east-side Willie C’s in the fall of 2000. He kept the west side going until May 2008.

After Willie C’s was gone, Rowe bought Red Bean’s Bayou Grill and ran it until it closed in 2014. In February, Rowe put on a Red Bean’s memorial breakfast, serving some of the dishes his regulars loved for one-morning only. He also has for the past two years put on Fat Tuesday parties that revive some of Red Bean’s Cajun specialties. All of the events have been packed with nostalgic customers, he said.

Someone brought up the idea of giving Willie C’s the same treatment. Rowe still has the old recipe books, he said, and several of his Blue Moon employees were Willie C’s servers and cooks.

The Willie C’s Cafe Revival will be from 4 to 10 p.m. on April 15. It will cost $17 for adults, $9 for children ages 4 to 12. It will be free for ages 3 and under. Rowe isn’t taking reservations – it’s first come, first served.

If it goes well, Rowe said, he’ll make it an annual event. He’s already planning to do the breakfast and the Fat Tuesday celebration again in 2017. He’s also putting on other special meals, including a Easter Sunday brunch this weekend.

For more information, call 316-612-4694.

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