Carrie Rengers

New owners of Happiness Plaza plan a neighborhood-type restaurant and more

Tory DeMarce, second from right, along with his wife, Wichita native Melanie Zepick DeMarce, are opening a restaurant in the main space at Happiness Plaza in College Hill. Former owners of the center, Marc White, right, Brad White, left, and their sister Michelle DeAngelis, not pictured, say they’re happy to sell the center to people with Wichita ties. The DeMarce’s children are Scarlett, standing, and Eleanor.
Tory DeMarce, second from right, along with his wife, Wichita native Melanie Zepick DeMarce, are opening a restaurant in the main space at Happiness Plaza in College Hill. Former owners of the center, Marc White, right, Brad White, left, and their sister Michelle DeAngelis, not pictured, say they’re happy to sell the center to people with Wichita ties. The DeMarce’s children are Scarlett, standing, and Eleanor. The Wichita Eagle

After much speculation, there’s now confirmation about what’s happening at Happiness Plaza, the longtime center at 3555 E. Douglas in College Hill.

A couple of former Wichitans and a recent transplant have purchased the center and plan a restaurant in its large main space, but they have much more planned for Wichita.

“Without a doubt,” Ryan Francisco says of himself and brother Anthony, both of whom grew up in Wichita.

“Our main objective right now is to . . . get the restaurant open at Happiness Plaza and kind of revitalize the entire center,” Francisco says.

He says he and his brother, who are in real estate investment in Phoenix, have already looked at other Wichita properties.

“I definitely see us doing more things in Wichita going forward.”

Their partners in the restaurant are Tory and Melanie DeMarce.

“I’ve done restaurants for the last 25 years,” says Tory DeMarce, who recently moved his family from Phoenix to Wichita.

Melanie DeMarce, whose maiden name is Zepick, is from Wichita and her family is still here.

Tory DeMarce says they’re still working out the details on what kind of restaurant they’ll open, but it will be a full restaurant and bar.

“We basically want it to be a neighborhood restaurant.”

He says he wants something approachable. The idea is that people from around the area could walk or ride their bikes there several times a week.

The neighborhood is a big part of the attraction for opening a restaurant there.

“I always wanted to live in College Hill growing up,” says Ryan Francisco, who grew up further east in Wichita.

“It’s the historic nature of it, and it’s the passion of everyone who lives in College Hill,” he says. “I just think it has a very cool vibe and feeling. It’s always been a very special part of Wichita.”

There is a special connection at Happiness Plaza, too.

Francisco’s wife, Lacy, is the daughter of the late Bobby Larcher, who used to own Larcher’s market on East Central.

Larcher was friends with the owners of Happiness Plaza, brothers Brad and Marc White.

“That’s how the whole thing kind of started,” Francisco says of buying the center.

“We’ve built up a really good friendship with the Whites through this process,” he says. “We just had a great time getting to know each other.”

Brad White is going to keep his Dean’s Designs at the center in a smaller space that he moved to in the fall of 2017. He used to have the 3,800-square-foot main space where the restaurant will open.

Stephanie Wise and Evan LaRue of John T. Arnold Associates handled the sale of Happiness Plaza.

“They’ve been phenomenal to deal with,” Francisco says.

He says the two also will lease the center, which is about 50 percent occupied.

The restaurant will be ready in the first quarter of next year.

DeMarce says he’ll share more about it as he finalizes plans.

“This is kind of a fun process,” he says.

Brad White says a restaurant will be great for Happiness Plaza, which his parents, Joyce and Dean, built and opened in 1968.

“I can’t tell you how many people have suggested a restaurant . . . would be a great thing to have in that location,” White says. “It’s just I think charming enough to provide a background for it.”

With Vora open at Uptown Landing down the street, White says, “It’s becoming known as a place to go for restaurants up and down Douglas. It’s great.”

The Whites owned Happiness Plaza with their sister, Michelle DeAngelis. Brad White says he and his siblings had hoped to sell to someone with Wichita ties.

“That was our preference from the beginning, to find somebody who felt a connection to take it the next step further,” he says.

“It’s certainly a family affair, and now I think . . . they’re continuing that tradition with young new blood. More power to them.”

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