When Denise Neil was approached by a publisher about writing a book that paid tribute to Wichita’s classic eateries, she didn’t hesitate to say yes.
Neil, an adjunct professor of journalism at Newman University and adviser of The Vantage student newspaper, is also a Wichita Eagle reporter and writes the popular “Dining with Denise” column, so the book idea was right up her alley.
“Because stories on (gone but never forgotten eateries) had been some of my most popular during the years I’ve written about Wichita restaurants, I knew there would be an appetite for it,” she said.
Neil spent an entire year working on the aptly titled “Classic Restaurants of Wichita.” The book was recently published and released by Arcadia Publishing, a South Carolina-based publisher that specializes in books about local and regional history.
“It was fascinating to dig through archives and talk to relatives of the people whose families started these restaurants,” she said.
Readers of the book will find more than 100 profiles and photos of Wichita restaurants that served residents from the time the city was founded in 1870 through the late 1980s, when Old Town started filling up and the modern dining scene emerged. These profiles include early favorites like Innes Tea Room, drive-ins and burger stands like Big Bun, steakhouses like Ken’s Klub and all-time favorites like Sidman’s.
Neil added that the book also recognizes Pizza Hut and White Castle, national chains that got their start in Wichita, as well as restaurants that are still in business today, such as Old Mill Tasty Shop.
One restaurant Neil especially enjoyed writing about was Wolf’s Cafeteria, which operated in downtown Wichita starting in the 1920s and drew quite a crowd — people used to line up to get in its doors. She was able to visit with the founder’s octogenarian grandson who lives in town and see his old pictures and hear his family stories. Neil also loved learning about the swanky supper clubs that operated in Wichita in the 1970s.
Neil hopes that readers “learn a little bit about all the hardworking restaurateurs who helped build this city’s dining scene into what it is today, and I hope that they, like me, will enjoy knowing about the dining options the generations of people who called this city before us had.”
“Classic Restaurants of Wichita” is available wherever books are sold, including Watermark Books & Café and Eighth Day Books in Wichita. People can also receive autographed, personalized copies if they reach out to Neil at [email protected] In addition, she will have several upcoming signing events around Wichita. Folks can find out those dates and more by visiting Classic Restaurants of Wichita by Denise Neil on Facebook.