A mo­ment of si­lence for the dis­ap­pear­ing Bishop’s Fam­ily Din­ing restau­rant

The Wichita Eagle (Sunday) - - Food & Drink - BY DENISE NEIL

Any­one who drives on west-bound Kel­logg has likely no­ticed the dra­matic dis­man­tling of the for­mer Bishop’s Fam­ily Din­ing build­ing, which has been va­cant since Bishop’s owner Luu Le closed the restau­rant in June 2017.

And al­though it’s un­likely any­one is sur­prised that the build­ing – which sits in an aban­doned park­ing lot of an aban­doned Kmart – is be­ing torn down, it’s still kind of sad to see an­other piece of a once-bustling area meet its end.

That’s cer­tainly true for Le, who first no­ticed his old friend be­ing taken apart – its roof gone and its stone fire­place vis­i­ble from the high­way – when he drove past a few weeks ago.

He’s driven by sev­eral times more and even stopped to chat with the work­ers on the site, he said.

“There are a lot of mem­o­ries there,” he said. “We made a good liv­ing. The ma­jor­ity of res­tau­rants do not sur­vive the first year, and we were there for 12 years.”

The prop­erty that Bishop’s was on is now owned by de­vel­op­ers Chris­tian Ablah and Brad Seville, who have talked about plans to re­de­velop the dy­ing Towne West Shop­ping Cen­ter area.

But that area was any­thing but dead in 1981, when the Bishop’s build­ing went up. Back then, cafe­te­rias were in their hey­day, and the build­ing opened as a Furr’s Cafe­te­ria. An ad from a 1981 edi­tion of the Ea­gle an­nounc­ing the restau­rant’s im­pend­ing open­ing seeks “cooks, bak­ers and salad mak­ers” to “join us for an ex­cit­ing fu­ture!”

Le worked for the Furr’s chain, and there were sev­eral in Wi­chita.

Cafe­te­rias were dif­fer­ent than the buf­fets peo­ple are ac­cus­tomed to now, and din­ers would go through a line and choose plated dishes a la carte. At the end of the line, they’d pay for each item in­di­vid­u­ally.

Back then, Wi­chita also had Wy­att’s Cafe­te­rias and Luby’s Cafe­te­rias.

“In the ’60s up to the late 1990s, cafe­te­rias were a re­ally big seg­ment of the restau­rant world,” Le said. “In those days, cafe­te­rias didn’t have a lot of com­pe­ti­tion. They didn’t have Ap­ple­bee’s or Chili’s or any­thing like that yet.”

But the ad­vent of the buf­fet – where peo­ple could get all the food they wanted for one price – killed the cafe­te­ria con­cept, Le said. Furr’s res­tau­rants all over Wi­chita were clos­ing, and by

2002, the West Kel­logg restau­rant was shut­tered.

The build­ing sat va­cant for two years be­fore Le was ap­proached by Bish­ops, which was a Furr’s sis­ter com­pany, and asked if he’d like to op­er­ate one in Wi­chita. He agreed and opened the fam­ily-style buf­fet restau­rant in 2004. A year later, that com­pany was strug­gling, too, and it sold the restau­rant to Le.

For years, Bishop’s was busy, he said. Le had a solid cus­tomer base, and he be­came well known for his an­nual Satur­day­be­fore-Thanks­giv­ing din­ners, when he would feed the home­less for free. But West Kel­logg con­struc­tion, which in­cluded ramp clo­sures and made it hard for peo­ple to nav­i­gate their way to Bish­ops, hurt busi­ness. When the Kmart closed last spring, that was it for Bishop’s, Le said.

He doesn’t re­gret any of his time spent in the restau­rant, Le said, and watch­ing the build­ing go is dif­fi­cult.

When he chat­ted up the work­ers on the site, Le said, they told him that the wood from the build­ing was sal­vaged, and that made him feel a bit bet­ter.

“One thing I re­ally miss about the build­ing is the din­ing room,” he said. “It was just so beau­ti­ful. It was all made of wood and had tall ceil­ings. They don’t make them like that any­more.”

Denise Neil: 316-268-6327, @deniseneil

DENISE NEIL The Wi­chita Ea­gle

The old Bishop’s Fam­ily Din­ing restau­rant is be­ing dis­man­tled. It first opened as a Furr’s Cafe­te­ria in 1981.

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