N&J Cafe and Bakery founder John Srour dies

John Srour converted a sweet tooth and a love of pastries into a landmark Wichita bakery and restaurant.

Mr. Srour, who founded N&J Cafe and Bakery at 5600 E. Lincoln, died last week at age 70 after a two-year battle with leukemia.

N&J's tradition of authentic Lebanese food will continue under his sons, Nick and John, and his former wife, Mona.

Mr. Srour also became a surrogate father to many Wichita Lebanese men, mentoring them when they first came to the U.S.

Mr. Srour made his first baklava at the age of 10 in his hometown, Zahle, Lebanon. He left his family and moved to Syria when he was 13 to work for a relative, said his son Nick.

Mr. Srour came from a family of pastry chefs who learned to make Arabic and European pastries, as well.

The family had a monopoly on pastries and sweets in Zahle, and remain well known in Lebanon.

"My dad always had a sweet tooth," Nick said. "He could down a dozen doughnuts."

Baking pastry was his love.

"He really had a passion for it," Nick said. "He was an artist with a pastry bag."

Mr. Srour moved his family from Michigan to Wichita in 1986 at the invitation of Antoine Toubia, who started the Olive Tree in 1979.

After working at other restaurants, he opened his bakery with Toubia's brother, Naji.

N&J became so successful that it expanded several times over the years, adding a cafe and specialty grocery operation.

It grew to occupy just about the entire strip center at Lincoln and Edgemoor.

"He was old fashioned," said a close friend, Marwan Jabara, who owns Jabara Engineering. "He wasn't really educated, but he was very smart and had a lot of common sense. He was a good businessman."

Mr. Srour mentored other men who came to Wichita from Lebanon, offering financial and business advice.

"We all learned quickly to go straight to him," said Joseph Samia, president of Central Air, who came from the same town in Lebanon as Mr. Srour.

"He was a very likable, very fun guy. He helped me get where I got. He kind of pushed what he learned: integrity, honesty and hard work."

"He was a wise man for all of us young pups. They always went to John for advice and he gave it. And for the most times, he was right on."

Lebanese people also came to N&J to dine on fare that includes falafel, hummus, kafta and shawarmas.

"They were the closest to an authentic Middle Eastern cuisine you can get," Samia said.

N&J became so well known that actors Kurt Russell and Harrison Ford ate dinner there together one night during a 2003 visit to Wichita.

Mr. Srour, who retired in 2005, also had a passion for golf, his friends said. He played even when he was sick.

"He never complained, he just loved being out there," Jabara said.