Dining With Denise Neil

Second helping: Some more of Wichita’s oldest restaurants

The space that holds Riverside Cafe was prone to flooding before The Big Ditch was finished in 1959.
The space that holds Riverside Cafe was prone to flooding before The Big Ditch was finished in 1959. Courtesy photo

As predicted, I missed a few.

Last week, The Eagle published a story listing Wichita’s oldest restaurants. I spent hours in our archives researching but had a strong feeling I might have overlooked a few.

Here an addendum to my story, which sent me back to the archives for several more dusty hours. (You can find the original story at the top of my Dining with Denise Facebook page.)

Riverside Cafe – 70 years old

The biggie I missed appears to be Riverside Cafe, which is still in business today at 739 W. 13th St.

Owner Paul Cohlmia says the cafe has been operating as a restaurant since 1946. I scoured through our old city directories and found the earliest listing for the building in 1954. Back then, 13th Street was called Parker, and Osman’s Cafe operated at 739 Parker from 1954 until the early 1960s, when it became Laverna’s Cafe.

In more recent years, Cohlima said, it has had names like Riverside Ed’s Cafe and Dick and Jayne’s Riverside Cafe. He took over the restaurant, which features a counter and lots of cozy booths, in 2001 and expanded it to add a second dining room in 2006.

Cohlmia has collected several historical tidbits over the years, including the fact that actress Vera Miles, who starred in Alfred Hitchcock’s “Psycho,” was once a waitress in the cafe. He also has a collection of old photos showing the cafe being threatened by floodwaters, pre-Big Ditch.

Occasionally, Wichita North High School classes from the 1940s and 1950s have converged at the cafe when having reunions. That’s when Cohlmia has heard the best stories.

“It’s pretty cool,” he said. “They can tell you a little bit of history.”

Club Billiards – 70 years old

You drive by Club Billiards at 925 W. Douglas in Delano all the time. But you might not know that the business at Club Billiards is overflowing with seven decades’ worth of “atmosphere,” including a stuffed and mounted bear shot in the 1970s by one of its 90-year-old regulars and a snooker table that dates to 1898.

Club Billiards, which has been in business in some form since 1946, is not technically a restaurant, though it does sell burgers, fried bologna sandwiches and tacos on Fridays. It’s a pool hall with a long history and was once infamous Wichita author and arsonist George Poulos’ hangout.

Mike Chapple, the club’s co-owner, said he started going with his parents to Club Billiards when he was a kid in the 1970s. When he had the opportunity to buy it, he wanted to keep it alive.

“We’ve preserved it pretty well,” he said. “It’s not a big money-making deal, but we’ve preserved it for the next generation.”

Dairy Queen – 65 years old

Richard Barrett, who’s owned the little free-standing Dairy Queen at 849 S. Poplar (near Lincoln and George Washington Boulevard) for 30 years, said it was originally built and opened in 1951. It’s the oldest free-standing Dairy Queen in Wichita.

Fat Ernie’s – at least 60 years old

Readers also pointed out that Fat Ernie’s, the diner at 2806 S. Hydraulic, had been operating for decades, too. My research revealed that there’s been a restaurant at that address since at least 1966. The restaurant was called B&W Cafe from the time it opened until 1995. It was Southern Pines Restaurant until 2001, when it became Fat Ernie’s.

Taco Grande – 56 years old

Mike Foley opened the first Taco Grand at 857 S. Oliver in 1960. It expanded and had franchises across the country. Foley sold the business in 1982, and today there are still Taco Grandes in Wichita – at 2315 W. 21st St. and 2255 S. Seneca.

Jimmie’s Diner – at least 47 years old

Toc’s Coffehouse at 1519 S. George Washington Blvd. was in operation until 2011, when Jack and Linda Davidson opened a Jimmie’s Diner in the space. Until then, Toc’s was the oldest still-operating link in the Kings-X chain, which was created by A.J. “Jimmie” King in 1938.

Linda Davidson said she and her husband don’t have a lot of history on Toc’s. I found a Toc’s listing in the city directories as early as 1959, when it was called Charcoal Drive-In. The Davidsons also were the final owners of the retro-riffic Kings-X diner at 21st and Amidon, which had operated since 1968 there. It was torn down in 2012 to make way for a CVS Pharmacy.

Chico’s – 42 years old

The first Chico’s Mexican restaurant opened in a tiny building at 3949 W. Douglas around 1974. Owners moved it to 4407 W. Maple in 2007, when the city claimed the land for west street expansion. That’s where it still operates.

A note about The Beacon

In last week’s story, I wrote that The Beacon at 909 E. Douglas had been operating as a restaurant at that location for 78 years. It was originally Curley’s Inn and also was once called The Riser.

Many readers pointed out that the restaurant also had a few other names. In the early 1970s, it operated as Golden Bell. And in the late 1970s, it was called Brownie’s and sold many different varieties of omelets.

Denise Neil: 316-268-6327, @deniseneil

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