Small Business

Cafe 151 owner caters to Cargill, also looks to expand on his own

Dwight Wells runs Cafe 151 in the same building in downtown Wichita that houses Cargill’s offices.
Dwight Wells runs Cafe 151 in the same building in downtown Wichita that houses Cargill’s offices. Eagle correspondent

Dwight Wells has a little more at stake in the discussions over Cargill’s future in Wichita than many people.

He runs a restaurant, Cafe 151, that depends on Cargill employees for three-fourths of its business. The breakfast-and-lunch eatery is on the ground floor of Cargill’s headquarters here.

But don’t think Wells is sitting around worrying over news that Cargill wants to move those headquarters, either to another site in Wichita or to another city.

That doesn’t fit the personality of a guy who gets to work at 4:30 a.m.

If given the opportunity, Wells said, “I’m going to follow them in the Wichita market wherever they go. Saying that, I’m also actively looking for another building” in which to open a restaurant.

Wells came to the restaurant business relatively late in life, after working in logistics for Dillons supermarkets in Hutchinson and Wichita. While at Dillons, he took a part-time job with Corporate Caterers and soon found a kindred spirit in its owner, Ben Arnold.

“Ben and I kind of hit it off really well,” he said. “We would bounce ideas off each other.”

Wells, whose cooking experience previously was limited to grilling and TV dinners, absorbed as much knowledge about food as he could from Arnold.

“It’s funny, you get to something later in life and you realize, ‘this is something I really like to do,’ ” he said.

Two years ago, he became Arnold’s partner in Corporate Caterers, which in addition to operating a traditional catering business ran Cafe 151, A.V.I Seabar & Chophouse in the Drury Plaza Hotel Broadview and an employee cafeteria in Intrust Bank’s downtown headquarters.

This year, the two decided to split up their business, with Wells taking over Cafe 151 and the Intrust cafe. Wells says the move was amicable, and he still uses many of Arnold’s recipes in Cafe 151, while also developing his own.

“It was an obvious choice,” Wells said. “I enjoy seeing the customers, getting to know them.

“With the 10 employees we have, we’re like a family.”

Restaurants such as Cafe 151 occupy an interesting niche in the industry, often given attractive lease agreements by landlords in exchange for providing occupants with good, convenient food at reasonable prices.

At Cafe 151, breakfast prices range from $1.50 for a Belgian waffle up to $5.75 for a three-egg omelet with choice of fillings, toast and potato.

For lunch, wraps and sandwiches cost $4 to $7, side and drink included. There’s a salad bar, pizza, burgers, grab-and-go items and daily plate lunch specials like meatloaf and chicken fried steak – “good old Mama’s cooking,” as Wells put it.

The cafe seats about 40 people, and there is seating for at least that many more in the lobby just outside the doors. About 400 work in the building, he said, and on many days a line stretches out the door for lunch.

The prices make it an attractive option for workers from other nearby office buildings as well, Wells said. Indeed, as he said it, a man jogged across the street carrying a take-out order from Cafe 151.

As the city of Wichita tries to keep Cargill from moving to another state, Wells is watching like everyone else, but also planning to expand his own business downtown.

“I’m excited about downtown Wichita, that’s the reason I want to stay,” he said. “Downtown Wichita to me is thriving.”

Now you know

Cafe 151

Address: 151 N. Main, 316-262-5555

Owner: Dwight Wells