Carrie Rengers

Grace Hill winery to add patio, event center

Wichita doctors Natalie and David Sollo are expanding their Grace Hill Winery with a new event center, patio and observation deck overlooking the vineyard in Whitewater.

"We're going to make a facility out there and kind of enhance our experience," says Jeff Sollo , the Sollos' son, who calls himself marketing manager, event coordinator and "vineyard boy," among other titles.

The vineyard, which is about 20 minutes from Wichita, opened two years ago and now has eight acres and 10 varieties of wine.

Previously, Grace Hill was mainly a retail outlet for the wine that the Sollos grow, press, age and bottle. The winery offers free tastings and tours.

The idea behind the event center and patio is they're a new way to entice people to visit.

"The main selling point here is the experience," Jeff Sollo says.

The 2,000-square-foot center, which will seat about 100, and 500-square-foot patio, which will seat another 40 or so, can be rented for parties and corporate events. The winery also will use the space for new wine education classes.

"Wine's not just for the snobby elitists of the world," Jeff Sollo says. He says he wants to bring it to the masses.

He also hopes to hold events like concerts and art shows there.

"Basically any sort of cultural event," he says.

The point, Sollo says, is come out and "enjoy some good life."

He says winemaking began as a hobby for his parents, and it then became an obsession.

"Obsession became business," he continues, "and here we are."

Sollo expects the new center and patio to be ready sometime in May.

"This weather's not helping at all," he says.

Once it's completed, though, Sollo says, "It's going to be very picturesque."

Blooming out west

The Flower Factory is named for the factorylike space it's in at 1302 E. Waterman, which is the corner of Waterman and Pattie, but it's now moving to a strip center.

March 1 — after the busy Valentine's season — the store is moving to Ridgeview Plaza behind the former Ted's Montana Grill at 21st and Tyler.

"We're moving because we think that the west side obviously is the place to be in Wichita right now," owner Steve McKnight says.

In addition to living on the west side, McKnight says he doesn't think there will be too much competition in the area.

Most significantly, though, he says, "We think it will really help the walk-in retail traffic."

For instance, he says, "We were cleaning the building out, and three or four women just walked in."

Currently, the store is in 4,000 square feet.

"It's a beautiful old building," McKnight says.

The new space, which will be 2,600 square feet, is even more attractive because of that walk-in traffic it will offer.

"That's what we're looking for."

Outward appearances

Thanks to facade grant money from the city, Connie's Mexico Cafe is getting a new exterior on its almost 100-year-old building at 2227 N. Broadway.

"We're going to get a facelift, so to speak, and change the front look," says owner Carmen Rosales .

There's scaffolding in front of the building, which has made some people wonder.

"Thankfully, it was not another car (or) truck wreck," Rosales says, alluding to three vehicles that have hit the building since Connie's opened in 1963.

The new exterior will "just give it a stucco flair," Rosales says.

"It's just always been an ugly brick with broken windows and everything."

The restaurant will remain open as the work is done.

The interior won't be changed since it was already updated after the last wreck in 2004. Nor will there be any more fortifications added to protect against future possible wrecks since that's already been done, too.

"We've done our best," Rosales says.

She's already thinking ahead a couple of years to how she might celebrate the building's 100th birthday.

"That's quite a deal, you know, to have a structure that's lasted that long."

Rosales isn't sure how she'll celebrate, but she'd like to do something.

"That would be cool."

You don't say

"I did it!"

—What Florida transplant and Exploration Place president Jan Luth exclaimed Wednesday while flashing the victory sign after driving in snow for the first time