Wichita’s wish list for dining, playing options is long – and specific

Wichita will never stop wishing for a Cheesecake Factory.
Wichita will never stop wishing for a Cheesecake Factory. The Kansas City Star

Wichita wants what it wants.

But when you ask Wichita to compose an anything-goes wish list of what it really wants when it comes to dining and entertainment, two different groups emerge.

There’s the Wichita that wants what Kansas City and Dallas have: A Cheesecake Factory and an In-N-Out Burger for lunch and dinner. A Dave & Buster’s or Top Golf for weekend entertainment. A Trader Joe’s for grocery shopping. H&M for clothing. An IKEA would be nice, too.

Then there’s the other Wichita. It’d rather never see another chain restaurant open here and would prefer more mom-and-pop ethnic places serving German food, Greek food and Spanish tapas. It would like to patronize a small movie theater showing independent films. It wants a local music scene as active as Austin’s. Some vintage clothing stores would be great. And if possible, this Wichita jokes, please get us a mountain and an ocean, too.

Recently, we asked Wichita to dream. If it could wish anything into existence when it came to dining and playing, what would they ask for? We posed the question on Facebook, and within an hour had several hundred responses. By the time people stopped responding, we had a list of 401 wishes.

Respondents named 146 different restaurants, types of cuisine or dining services they wanted. They named 40 types of entertainment venues and activities they wish Wichita had.

Some of those wishes could, eventually, come true. Others probably never will. But it’s fun to dream.

Here’s a rundown of what the Wichitans we polled said they wished they could eat and do in their downtime.

Dining dreams

The very first person to comment on our Facebook poll called it.

“Is this going to be your annual ‘Wichitans want a Cheesecake Factory’ story?” wrote Kevin Sevart.

As it turns out, that’s a dream that might never die. When all the things Wichitans said they wanted were tallied, Cheesecake Factory was named more than anything else.

For those who don’t know, Cheesecake Factory is a California-based chain restaurant that has 200 locations across the country, including two in the Kansas City area. Tulsa and Oklahoma City have one each. The restaurant has a lavish interior and a menu so large, it’s a book. It also serves its own cheesecake for dessert.

Over the years, the restaurant has become a Wichita ideal, so much so that The Wichita Eagle frequently seeks updates from the company, which always provides a version of the standard answer: Cheesecake Factory usually considers only locations that have 250,000 people living within five miles, and household incomes in those areas need to be $70,000 or higher. Certain areas of Wichita could come close to the income requirement, but the population wouldn’t be there.

Though it was the most mentioned, Cheesecake Factory isn’t the only chain that Wichita longs for. Local diners also dream of having their own In-N-Out Burger, the California burger chain that’s been around since 1945 and has developed an almost cult-like following. (There are 345 In-N-Outs across the country, but the closest to Wichita are in the Dallas-Fort Worth area.) A Joe’s Crab Shack also is essential, respondents said (the nearest one is in Tulsa), as are a Whataburger (Stillwater) and Waffle House (Kansas City, Oklahoma City). Other chains frequently mentioned: Runza, Fuddruckers, Culver’s, Pizza Ranch and Chuy’s Tex Mex.

“I come from southeast Texas,” said Teresa Rothlisberger. “Even though Wichita has a lot of really good burger places, my Texas blood craves a good Whataburger sometimes at 2 in the morning. The closest Whataburger is in Stillwater.”

Not all Wichitans want chains, though. The growing nationwide “shop local” sentiment also applies to dining for many culinary dreamers, and dozens said Wichita has more than enough chains.

“This town needs more chef driven restaurants and less chains,” said Mckenzie Lippincott. “As a wife of a chef and myself being in the restaurant business for 13 years, this town is very limited on its fine dining and chef-driven restaurants. There really are only a handful of chef-driven restaurants, which makes it hard to find a job that you will love and not have to loath going corporate.”

And although they didn’t have particular restaurants in mind, a whole crop of commenters felt like they knew which types of cuisine Wichita was lacking.

We’re covered on Lebanese, Vietnamese, Mexican and Thai. But why doesn’t Wichita, whose earliest settlers were Germans, have any sit-down German restaurants? Any Spanish tapas places? More seafood options? More Italian? A real Irish pub?

German food was the most mentioned. Wichita does have a popular German food truck – Let’m Eat Brats, which specializes in bratwurst and schnitzel – and Newton’s Bread Basket offers a German buffet once a week, readers pointed out. But they want a place to sit and dine on bierocks and schnitzel, something they haven’t been able to do since Imbiss Grill, an early Old Town Square tenant, closed in 2011. (Diners also frequently yearn aloud for the days of Mr. Dunderbak’s, a German restaurant that operated in Wichita in the 1980s.)

Right behind German on the list of desired cuisines was Italian, followed by Spanish tapas, Ethiopian, Greek, Cuban and Cajun. Polish, Caribbean and Indian also got several mentions, as did Hawaiian barbecue and Brazilian steakhouse.

Many also said they thought Wichita could use some bakeries that sold fresh bread, vegan restaurants, Jewish delis, crepe places and Chicago-style deep-dish pizza. A few even requested a Swedish smorgasbord.

Wichitans also had a few suggestions for services that would improve the city’s dining scene.

Several mentioned that they’d like to see more late-night dining options, as Wichita’s kitchens like to shut down around 9 or 10 p.m., leaving late-night workers in a lurch. Many mentioned 24-hour restaurants specifically.

“More 24-7 places that are not crap breakfast joints,” said Lacey Jones. “We have a lot of third and fourth shift jobs in Wichita and nowhere to go on nights off.”

Several people wanted to know why so few Wichita restaurants delivered. Others wished for a more robust and organized happy hour scene.

And a large number of people said they’d like Wichita to build more restaurants with a view, perhaps along the river. San Antonio’s famous River Walk was offered as a model.

“I would love a bar/cafe with views,” said Stephanie Galichia. “Waterfront or the river or somewhere with a balcony or patio, low lighting, some romance and sexiness. … Something that shows off the sunsets and gives an elevated feel to the evenings.”

Wichita just wants to have fun

Rumors are flying all over town that Wichita is getting a Dave & Buster’s, a national chain that offers food, drink and a giant video arcade designed to entertain both adults and kids. A few commenters on the post went as far as to indicate it was a done deal, even naming an intersection.

And that would make many Wichitans happy. The most mentioned desired entertainment venue was Dave & Buster’s, a business that tantalizes Wichita television viewers with ads even though it isn’t operating in our market. (The closest is in Kansas City.)

“We have the perfect market,” said Deserae Haynes. “Bring it, Wichita!”

Wichita Eagle business staffers who are following the Dave & Buster’s rumor say it’s not true yet, but they’re watching it closely and check in with developers regularly.

Wichitans who visit Kansas City also want another place it has: Top Golf, an all-ages entertainment venue that has food, drinks and golf games featuring microchipped golf balls that score themselves.

They’re more likely to get that one – or something like it. Wichita Destination Developers hopes to open DRIV Golf Lounge & Brewhouse, a Top Golf spinoff, at its 100-acre development at K-96 and Greenwich. The group is waiting to see if the state approves up to $29 million in STAR bonds for the project.

Wichitans, still in mourning over the loss of Joyland, say they’d like a new amusement park to take its place. Many also say they remember the fun they used to have at water park Barnacle Bill’s Fantasea at Woodlawn and K-96, which had slides and a wave pool but closed in 1999.

“Wichita has enough places to eat. We need more entertainment,” said Jeremy Hoepner. “Should have never lost both Joyland and Fantasea. More than anything we need more places for kids to go like we had when we were younger. YMCA is great and all, but we need a real water park. Also I know Joyland is out of the question, but I think Wichita could support something on the level of say an amusement park like Frontier City in OKC.”

Wichitans against boredom also mentioned a desire for some local ziplines, all-ages venues, dance venues and obstacle courses.

Maggie Gilmore and a few other people also mentioned the need for an independent movie theater.

“I want to be able to see an indie movie at more than one theater for more than two weeks before it’s pulled to make room for 10 screens of ‘Avengers 5,’ ” she said.

Wichita shoppers also seem clear on what retail additions Wichita needs, and Wichita needs a Trader Joe’s. The company, which operates neighborhood grocery stores that carry gourmet and organic items, garnered almost as many mentions as Cheesecake Factory, which means people really, really want it. (Keep in mind, Trader Joe’s fans, that the store’s famous cheap wine, known as “Two-Buck Chuck,” wouldn’t be allowed in Kansas locations.)

Shopping fans also responded with names of specific retailers they want, including IKEA, Fry’s Electronics and H&M. Some outlet shopping also would be a plus, respondents said.

“It’s hard to say exactly what we need because there is so much missing,” said respondent Angelina Courtney. “We are the 48th largest city in the U.S., but … we are 10 years behind everybody else.”