Revisiting long-gone favorites

Wichita restaurant expert releases new book

Written by Denise Neil

During my more than 20 years of writing about the local dining scene for the “Wichita Eagle,” some of my most popular stories have been about restaurants that don’t exist — at least, not anymore.

I’ve learned that there are few things longtime Wichitans love more than reading and reminiscing about the once-popular restaurants from the past that they miss, and getting swept up in nostalgia thinking back to dinners with their grandparents, meals before school proms, surprise engagements over steak, and everyday meals that these restaurants made memorable.

That’s why, when I was approached by Arcadia Publishing, a South Carolina-based publisher that specializes in books on local and regional history, about writing a book that paid tribute to these gone-but-never-forgotten eateries, I knew there would be an appetite for it.

I spent all my free time for a year working on this book, “Classic Restaurants of Wichita,” which is finally done and will be released on Aug. 9.

People who pick it up will find more than 100 profiles of restaurants that fed Wichitans from the time the city was founded in 1870 all the way through the late 1980s, when Old Town started filling up and the modern dining scene was emerging.

The book, which is also packed with old photos of these restaurants — some that haven’t been seen in decades — includes profiles on early favorites like Innes Tea Room, Holly Cafe and Fairland Cafe. It revisits drive-ins and burger stands like Big Bun, Continental Grill, Kau Kau Korner and Griff’s Burger Bar. It has profiles of north Wichita steakhouses like Ken’s Klub and Abe’s; early barbecue favorites like Auntie Sweet’s, R&S and Rudy’s; swanky hangouts like Lancers Club, Judge Riggs, The Looking Glass and Kamiel’s; and all-time favorites like Sidman’s, Lazy-R, Dr. Redbird’s, Applegate's Landing, Portobello Road, Mr. Dunderbak’s, Pasta Mill and so many more.

Of course, it includes nods to Pizza Hut and White Castle, two national chains that got their starts in Wichita, and there’s a section devoted to restaurants that are still in business decades after they first opened: NuWay, Old Mill Tasty Shop, Angelo’s, Scotch & Sirloin and more.

I had so much fun digging through old newspaper archives and talking to the descendents of early Wichita restaurateurs, many of whom dug out old pictures and told me amazing stories to include in the book. Now, when I drive around town, I not only see what’s there, I also see what used to be there, and it’s fascinating. Anyone have a time machine I could borrow? There’s a free book or two for you in the deal.

Here are a few events you can visit to talk with me about the book and pick up a signed copy:

Aug. 12: Doo-Dah Diner, 206 E. Kellogg: Chef Patrick Shibley, whose father, Kay Shibley, owned Kamiel’s Club in the 1970s, is putting on a special buffet starting at 6 p.m. on Aug. 12 that will feature lost recipes from some of the restaurants featured in the book, including his dad’s. Tickets are $45 and include the buffet and a copy of the book. I’ll also speak at the event. Tickets are on sale at

Aug. 14: Best of Times, 6452 E. Central: I’ll be signing books from 1 to 3 p.m. at this fun gift shop in Normandie Center

Aug. 17: The Loft at 420, 420 S. Commerce: I’ll have a public presentation and book release party from 5 to 8 p.m. at this event space on Commerce Street. There will be a cash bar. Admission is free.

Aug. 21: Iron Chili Head, 2707 W. 13th St.: I’ll be a judge at Johnson’s Garden Center’s annual Iron Chili Head, a food truck party and beer tasting event. I’ll have books with me to sign and sell. The event lasts from noon to 4 p.m and I’ll be there until 3 p.m.

September: I’ll be speaking about the book and signing copies at Watermark Books in September. Watch their social media and website for exact dates and times.

“Classic Restaurants of Wichita”
By Denise Neil
Paperback, $21.99 plus tax

Available wherever books are sold locally, including Watermark and Amazon, or email Denise Neil at

Follow the Facebook page, @ClassicRestaurantsofWichita, for more upcoming events.

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