In the Wichita restaurant scene (as well as nationwide) there has never been a year like 2020. By all accounts it’s been the single worst year that brought on so many challenges. I spent this year trying to be as involved as possible. While many people avoided dining out, it was a record year of dining for me. I visited more restaurants in the past year than any other year of blogging. I ate at over 300 restaurants and food trucks over the course of the year. Is that more than anybody in Wichita? Who knows but I felt it was only right to do my part.
I wanted to take a look back at 2020 and revisit the ups and downs of not just the dining scene in general but the blog which saw a significant amount of growth in terms of readership. Like every single thing, my year of blogging was met with animosity as well as love. So enjoy the look back at 2020…
The start of the year started off great. Doing a restaurant week style of event was always something I wanted to set up. In the matter of a few months of planning I put together an event called Dine Out Wichita. Over 40 restaurants joined me in my venture to help raise over $5,000 for United Way. I received some help from the Kansas Restaurant & Hospitality Association as well as Kansas Gas Service who was a corporate sponsor for the event. The month-long event enticed diners around town to try different restaurants with deals and discounts. It was a TON of work and only made possible by the many restaurants who believed in the vision and participated.
Notable Closings: El Vaquero Mexican Grill, Coney Island Hot Weiners, The Dapper Donut
Things were still business as usual in the dining scene. Restaurants were gearing up for the big Valentine’s Day weekend. News started to creep up about a virus of some sort. This would be the last full-month that restaurants operated as normal.
One of the biggest things to come out of February on the blog oddly enough was Spangles decisions to start selling margaritas and screwdrivers. Alcohol at a fast food restaurant was finally a thing. When I wrote about it, I was met with pushback from some readers upset that I was promoting drinking at a family restaurant. What’s crazy is these same people didn’t care that I had a drink at Dave & Buster’s. Little did I know, the comments and emails from readers would get much worse.
Notable Closings: Aero Plains Brewing
The shit really hit the fan in March. COVID-19 started to pick up and every event imaginable including the NCAA Tournament was canceled. Restaurants were closing temporarily unsure of what would happen next. There were shortages on toilet paper, cleaning supplies, PPE equipment from all over the place. Diners were unsure of who was open, what their hours were and who closed for good.
The dining scene as we knew it, changed forever.
Notable Openings: Jersey Mike’s Subs
The hardest hit industry because of COVID-19 was the restaurant and hospitality group. And who stepped up to help those affected by the virus? That exact same industry. With restaurants closing, people working from home and kids sent home from schools, the dining scene stepped up in big ways. Places like Taco Locale, Pinole Blue, Kelly’s Family Diner, Big Larry’s Burgers, Casa Martinez, Amy’s Pizza Place, The BOMB BBQ and more fed displaced workers, frontline employees, and anybody affected by COVID.
A group of local business owners put together an effort called ICT Bar Rescue which raised over $100,000 to assist local hospitality workers who lost their job because of COVID-19.
Another bright spot in the month saw Natasha Gandhi-Rue not just appear but be the winner on an episode of Guy Fieri’s show Guy’s Grocery Games.
Notable Closings: Picasso’s Pizzeria East
After being closed for 1-2 months, restaurants began to reopen. Delivery picked up and the term “curbside carryout” and “family to go meals” became regular vernacular for diners.
It was also this time, I decided to purchase a Yoder Smoker from All Things BBQ. It was a mix of a birthday gift to me/first Father’s Day gift. Cooking at home is something I rarely do but I wanted to learn the art of grilling seeing as how I was unsure if restaurants would be forced to close again.
The craziest story to come out of May was the arson that took place at Wichita Chicken Fried House.
One of the biggest challenges restaurants faced was informing diners that it was safe to eat out again. They were met with so much pushback but little did they know things would get worse yet again…
The shooting of George Floyd in late May started a whole new shift. Social issues and the Black Lives Matter movement pushed COVID-19 news to the site. Many restaurants used their platform to step up for an array of issues they believed in and course caught lots of flack for it. After months of preaching, “We are in this together”, the city became divided again. Protests and riots took place. Social rights activists called for boycotts against restaurants who donated food to the police or to places who posted BLM flyers on their walls. It was a crazy scene.
I definitely caught my fair share. I used my social platform to ask people not to vandalize small businesses and was accused of being against BLM even though I’ve been a supporter, donor and volunteer of groups like Rise Up For Youth. I also published a list of Black-Owned Restaurants in Wichita and received an incredible number of hateful DM’s and emails for doing so. It was a lose-lose situation that cost me a lot of followers that lost me zero sleep.
The biggest light of them all for this blog was celebrating my daughter’s first birthday at BrightWater Bay and having an awesome cake made by Simply Sunday Cakes. Also with the lack of COVID coverage, that left the room for many restaurants to open
Things started to calm back down in July. Calm down so much I decided to stay home and eat every single Banquet meal I could get my hands on.
Around the end of the month, Gabby’s Peruvian Restaurant made the decision to close. They scaled back their hours of operation to just three days and had a last hurrah. What happened next was a reversal of fortune. Many customers supported them during this time and encouraged Gabby’s to stay open. With things looking bleak, the outpour of support was enough for them to remain open which they still are to this day.
After years of operating downtown, the ICT Pop-Up Urban Park which featured food trucks pretty much every day of the week officially closed at the end of the month. It was a great centrally located park people could walk to and visit an array of different food trucks. It was such a mainstay of downtown Wichita but developers of the land wanted to reinvent it and turn it into something different.
August also marked the end of the Most Liked Taco Tournament. We started off with a poll of 128 different taco restaurants and food trucks all across Wichita earlier in the year. After months of voting, arguing and debating (people get heated about comparing different styles of tacos), Tacos TJ 664 won out and was voted the Most Liked Taco.
Notable Closings: Greek Plus
My biggest project of 2020 was finally released. I felt no resource in town gave the full spread of restaurants, food trucks, bakeries, bars, caterers, etc in Wichita and the surrounding area. I set out to create a directory with just that and made it publicly available. I called it the Wichita Food & Booze Directory.
With the elections coming, Facebook made the decision to remove polls from Facebook pages. So with that, I wasn’t able to do any “Most Liked” tournament votings from my page. I had planned to do a Most Liked BBQ Tournament and had to scrap those plans.
As the seasons changed, COVID continued its effect on restaurants. Many places closed temporarily due to exposure.
Notable Closings: Keeper of the Crepes, Los Mexican Burritos #2
A video showing cocoa bombs on social media spread like wildfire and caused a trend that caused every single person to create their own home bakery. I purchased some cocoa bombs in October but by the end of the month was completely burnt out on them.
This month also introduced The Neighborhood. I know there are many food bloggers, vloggers and influencers out there in the Wichita community. People seem to think we are all competition so I set out to prove that wrong and bring a bunch of us like-minded people together to create a restaurant panel of sorts. Our goal was to use our platforms to collaborate and share our thoughts on food in Wichita. From there it branched out and we started doing little meet ups to dine at restaurants around town and help give those places additional exposure.
Notable Closings: Greystone Restaurant, The Brookeville Hotel (Abilene, KS)
Events were a rarity all year. So many things were postponed or canceled in 2020. The Derby Chamber of Commerce though moved ahead with their Taste of Derby event. I thought it was one of the most organized food events I’ve seen in the area. Diners could purchase a lanyard and visit a bunch of restaurants and bars in Derby and sample different foods. It was simple, effective and allowed people an opportunity to visit new places they otherwise may have never tried.
November marked the start of my “Eat Local” campaign. It was my goal to spend the last two months featuring as many local restaurants as possible via reviews, Get To Know segments, giveaways and more.
Thanksgiving came and went. Many restaurants jumped on the take out bandwagon and offered meals for families to take home to increase revenue on a horrible year.
Notable Closings: Mo’s Hut
One of my goals before the end of the year hit was to visit restaurants outside of Wichita. I made the drive out to Kingman, Zenda, Colwich, Belle Plaine, Mulvane and other cities to explore the deliciousness available beyond the Wichita border. I had much success doing Days of Dining in cities like Newton and Hutchinson and loved finding the small-town gems.
December marked the end of my Tour-amisu Di Tiramisu. I set out to try over 30 different tiramisu from 30 different restaurants.
2020 became a year many people in the restaurant industry would like to forget. While there was so much bad that took place, there was still bright spots. It was amazing to see people and restaurants in the community come together to help others. Restaurants learned to optimize and become more efficient adding additional streams of revenue. Online ordering, curbside carryout, to go meals became staples of dining.
I’m not sure what to expect in 2021. To steal a quote from Big Brother, “expect the unexpected”.
All I know is I’m ready to continue dining out and enjoying the best of what our restaurant community has to offer. Next year marks TEN YEARS for my blog. To all the readers who showed me support throughout the year, stay tuned. I have more up my sleeve for next year that I cannot wait to share with you. Wichita By E.B. will continue to grow and offer more ways to be a true benefit to the city that goes beyond just dining.