Over the past couple of weeks, I’ve had two unrelated people ask me the same question — and I don’t have the answer. I’m wondering if you can help.
Both people were fans of Albert’s, the Chinese restaurant at 6425 E. Kellogg that operated in Wichita for 54 years but closed for good in the summer of 2001. They both wanted to know which local Chinese restaurant served food most comparable to Albert’s.
I didn’t move to Wichita until late 1997, and although I remember seeing Albert’s often, I never made it there. So even though I have a good handle on the Chinese food scene in Wichita, I couldn’t say whose food is most similar. I do know that people who went to Albert’s back in the day are split. Some say it had the best food ever, no doubt influenced by several tablespoons of nostalgia. Others say the food was not exactly great and that those who think it was are influenced by several tablespoons of nostalgia.
Anyone have thoughts on this? And can you help me come up with an answer for these mourning Albert’s fans?
By the way, if you’re interested, keep reading. I’m posting Dan Voorhis’ story that was published when Albert’s closed in 2001.
Friday, July 13, 2001
By Dan Voorhis
The Wichita Eagle
ALBERT’S CHINESE RESTAURANT CLOSES
THE RESTAURANT, WHICH HELPED CHANGE WICHITA’S EATING HABITS, SHUTS ITS DOORS AFTER 54 YEARS IN BUSINESS
In 1947, Wichita was largely a city of diners and steakhouses. And then came Albert’s Restaurant.
The elegant Chinese restaurant with its black booths and red lacquered walls gave Wichita one of its first real tastes of international cuisine.
Albert’s closed Monday after 54 years, the victim of aging owners and a tight job market. Founded by Albert Mar on North Hillside Avenue, it moved to Kellogg and Woodlawn in 1953.
Cornell Mar, Albert Mar’s nephew, and his wife, Sharon, took over the restaurant in 1963. They’ve run it ever since.
“When it opened, it was a novelty to have Chinese food,” said Bob Puckett, director of the Wichita/Sedgwick County Historical Museum and a 40-year fan of Albert’s.
“There were a few others . . . but this was the finest Chinese restaurant in town.”
In a town that now boasts Russian, Lebanese and Thai restaurants, Albert’s doesn’t seem exotic. But in its time, Chinese food was pretty revolutionary.
That’s why the Mars always served a full American menu: steaks, hamburgers, prime rib.
“I could only go half way,” Cornell Mar said. “I couldn’t make it on Chinese food alone.”
In its prime, it was one of the nicest restaurants in town, pulling in the local elite and national celebrities, such as Tarzan-portrayer Johnny Weissmul ler and TV actor Bob Cummings, when they were in Wichita.
The restaurant inspired tremendous loyalty among many of these customers.
Joy Walker of west Wichita said she’d go as often as once a week. The food was certainly good, she said, but it was the people that made it a favorite.
“They had this display with candy bars and gum by the register,” Walker said.
“Every time I’d leave that restaurant they’d say, ‘Here, Joy,’ and they’d stick a couple of candy bars or some gum in my purse.”
But time and progress has conspired against Albert’s.
Business fell as Chinese restaurants’ mounting buffets multiplied, help became harder to find and the prospect of Kellogg freeway construction in front of the restaurant loomed.
And after 40 years, they got tired of working 80 hours a week.
The Mars’ children, Jay and Glenda, had worked at the restaurant since they were children and didn’t want to take it over.
The Mars didn’t want to make a big deal out of the closing on Monday, but word leaked out and old friends showed up all day long.
They ate, drank, cried and gave hugs – a fitting farewell to one of Wichita’s restaurant pioneers.