Carrie Rengers

‘Everything starts with a dream,’ Hartman says of downtown grocery

Wichita, if you want something built, apparently you simply need to tell Wink Hartman Sr. that you don’t think he can do it.

The oilman-turned-restaurateur-turned-arena-owner-turned-banker – to name a few of Hartman’s interests – now is considering building a grocery store downtown.

“When people said I couldn’t do a grocery store, that’s exactly when I decided I’m going to,” Hartman says.

“I don’t like to be told no,” he says. “I got into banking (the) same way. Fine dining – they said I couldn’t do it. Couldn’t build an arena. They said I couldn’t do it.”

It’s now a source of pride.

“Do I always do things nobody else does?” Hartman says. “Everybody stands around with their hands in their pockets and looks across the street and says … ‘Who’s going to do it?’ Or ‘How’s it going to get done?’ I’m not built that way.”

He says there’s clearly a need for a grocery store as downtown’s residential population continues to grow. There are about 2,000 residential units there now and about 700 planned.

“I’ve talked with a lot of people who live downtown,” Hartman says. “I am presently looking at locations.”

He says his favorite time to look is late Sunday morning or midafternoon so he can drive slowly through downtown’s fairly empty streets.

“You don’t irritate all the people behind you,” Hartman says. “I get a lot of work done.”

He says he’s looking west of Hydraulic, north of Douglas and south of Central.

“What I consider the real hard-core area.”

He says first he has to find the right site, then create the right financial structure. Finally, he says, he’ll need to find the right person to partner on running the business.

Hartman would not open a chain grocery.

“My desire is to be self-creative.”

He said he and especially his wife, Libba, are into the “chef-y food kind of thing.”

“I’m around the industry quite a bit.”

Hartman owns Chester’s Chophouse & Wine Bar and six Jimmy’s Egg restaurants and is working on at least two more Jimmy’s sites. He says he sees a grocery store as an extension of his restaurant business.

The potential grocery store doesn’t have a name yet.

“Hopefully it’ll be something kind of catchy,” Hartman says.

There’s a bigger hope, though.

“Hopefully it makes financial sense.”

He says the grocery industry works off a very small margin. Hartman says he has to be competitive but also needs a return on his investment.

“I don’t expect a return that I get in most of my businesses.”

Hartman says he looks forward to mapping what will go where in the store, perhaps with some expert help.

“If the oil business fails, maybe I could put on an apron and work in the produce department.”

Hartman is joking, but he says the oil business really is hurting.

Not all of Hartman’s ventures have been immediate successes.

For instance, his Hartman Arena in Park City has “been a challenge, but every business you get in is a challenge.”

“We’re having a grand time up there. Park City has been really good to us.”

Hartman says he might have the same grand time with a grocery store.

“Everything starts with a dream.”

Carrie Rengers: 316-268-6340, @CarrieRengers