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5 Wichita Restaurant Franchises That Should Make a Comeback

Growing up in Wichita I went to tons of great restaurants that are no longer in business today. These were the places I’d hang with my family and friends on the weekends - where we had birthday parties, where I got up enough courage to try salad for the first time, where I would slurp my drink down to the ice to get free refills, where we would go for a little oasis from our daily lives. Even though these places are gone now, I’ll always have the memories we created there.

While some of those mom and pop places will never return, chains have a tendency to go wherever the customers are and that leaves me with hope. Here’s a list of 5 former Wichita restaurant chains we’d like to see make a comeback.

Romano’s Macaroni Grill

Former Location: 1920 N Rock Rd

What it Was

By the time I was coming of age I was finally driving and needed a place to go on dates. What better place to take a young lady in the 90’s than Macaroni Grill? The place was dimly lit, the wait staff was dressed smartly and the food was excellent – especially the bread.

Some vocalist music major friends of mine from WSU also waited tables there and would serenade patrons with Italian opera selections from time to time. They would also cover the table in white paper and give you crayons to use so we would always draw some funny sketches for our waiter or waitress before we’d leave.

What it is Now

I’m not sure why the parent company decided to close the Wichita location, but they tore the building down and put in the Barnes & Noble book store that stands there today. Other cities still have Macaroni Grills, the closest are in Colorado if you’re feeling nostalgic. But with the rapid departure of other book stores in our city, I think we made a good trade.


Grandy's

Former Location: 259 S West St

What it Was

Grandy’s Country Cookin’ was tiny a place on the corner of Maple and West not far from Towne West when it was in its heyday. They had can’t-miss comfort food like chicken fried steak, fried chicken, catfish and lots of belly-filling sides to round out your plate. I used to beg my parents for Grandy’s on Sundays and there began my life-long preoccupation with finding the best chicken fried steaks in the land.

This was the first place I’d ever seen Norman Rockwell art hung up anywhere. They had his humorous country life illustrations hung up all over the walls. My favorite was the angry kid at the doctor’s office pulling up his pants carefully studying the doctor’s credentials hanging on the wall.

What it is Now

Other restaurants have tried to occupy the old Grandy’s building, but none have succeeded for very long. Every time I drive by I still hold out a vain hope that there will be a sign that says “Grandy’s Coming Again Soon!” but it’s never there. There are still Grandy’s franchises today in Oklahoma, Texas and a few other states. The next time I’m down in OKC I’ll have to stop by and relive a piece of my childhood.


Willie C's

Former Location: 656 S West St

What it Was

Willie C’s was a hugely popular Tex-Mex joint in Wichita in the 80’s and 90’s with locations next to Towne East and Towne West. It had a distinctive Texas theme inside and lots of amazing Texas-sized entrees to try. The Towne East location closed in 2000 after competition from north Rock Rd and the Kellogg construction dwindled business.

The West St location stayed open for a while longer but eventually closed as well in 2008. There was, however, a one-night revival of a Willie C’s buffet recently where almost 500 people showed up to get their Willie C’s favorites once again and there might be more one-off events planned in the future.

What it is Now

The old Willie C’s building was briefly The Rowdy Beaver Restaurant and Tavern, but it didn’t last long. Now it’s an empty building. The old website domain for Willie C’s – williecs.com – now belongs to NBA star Willie Cauley-Stein of the Sacramento Kings.


Chi-Chi's

Former Location: 511 S West St 

What it Was

The third in my Towne West trilogy is the old Chi-Chi’s Mexican restaurant on West St. They had all the classic favorites like fried ice cream, taco salads, chimichangas and huge tacos and little me loved all of it. Everything about the place was fun, from the colorful exterior to the noisy, raucous interior. It certainly was “a celebration of food” as the commercials used to suggest.

Chi-Chi’s left Wichita in 1999 amid a backdrop of financial struggles and the building was purchased by Rand Graphics Inc. for over a million dollars according to the Wichita Business Journal. Like many national franchises, Chi-Chi’s fell into inept hands and filed for bankruptcy in 2003 and soon after suffered the worst hepatitis A outbreak in US history when 4 people died and 660 fell ill in Pittsburg, PA. Today Chi-Chi’s is gone from the US and Canada altogether, only operating in China, Belgium, Luxembourg, the UAE, Kuwait and Indonesia.

What it is Now

Today the old Chi-Chi’s lot is still occupied by Rand Graphics on the back half closest to S Florence St and the front half where Chi-Chi’s used to stand is now Hibachi Grill Sushi. If you’re still nostalgic for the good times at Chi-Chi’s there is a Facebook page called A Tribute to Chi-Chi’s Mexican Restaurant that posts once in a while and users share their favorite memories in the comments.


White Castle

Former Location: 201 N. Main

What it Was

The well-known national burger chain Harold and Kumar spent an entire comedy feature film trying to find was started right here in Wichita in 1921. Back then burgers and drinks only cost five cents each and the first White Castle was built in the shape of an actual mini white castle. The chain is best known for their bite-sized slider burgers with and without cheese, but there hasn’t been a White Castle in Kansas since 1938.

White Castle has since returned to Wichita a couple times for one-off appearances in 2011 for the chain’s 90th anniversary and in 2016 for Riverfest. Huge crowds came out to support the hometown heroes, but there still isn’t a known plan for a permanent White Castle anywhere in Kansas.

What it is Now

Today Sunflower Bank occupies the original White Castle location downtown. Were there ever a couple guys back in 1921 who put off work and studying one night to go and find the original White Castle like Harold and Kumar did in 2004? If they did I’m sure Neil Patrick Harris was there along the way helping them reach their destination.

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