Lawyer Abdul Arif buys Avivo Brick Oven Pizzeria at NewMarket Square

WICHITA — Abdul Arif swore he’d never do it again, but he’s getting back in the restaurant business.

Arif says he closed on a deal Wednesday to buy Avivo Brick Oven Pizzeria in NewMarket Square and plans to make some changes, though incrementally, and expand with more restaurants.

Years ago, the lawyer says, he had a couple of Indian restaurants “that I lost my shirt on.”

The difference now, he says, is his tenant at Sutton Place, Gerard Rodriguez of Anna Murdoc’s Cafe, is going to run Avivo in addition to having an ownership stake in it.

“We made him an offer he couldn’t refuse, just like the pizza mafia guys do,” Arif says jokingly.

He says Rodriguez went to culinary school and has a passion for food.

“I’m not passionate about food like these guys who go to culinary school,” Arif says. “You can’t get them to shut up.”

Tony Suellentrop, whose family started Avivo, says other demands prompted the sale.

“We have a lot going on,” he says.

The family has a Gambino’s Pizza franchise, among other things, that he says has “accelerated and taken a lot of our time.”

“My dad, Gene, being in the Legislature of course pulls away from our time as well.”

Though the Suellentrops won’t have ownership in Avivo, Tony Suellentrop says they will continue to help operationally.

“We think this is a good partnership where we can work with people who have a lot of energy and excitement to keep this concept going,” he says. “We’ve been looking for people like this to take the next step.”

Arif and Rodriguez say there are numerous ways they’re going to capitalize on Avivo’s location and potential.

For instance, Arif says that on game days, Avivo has overflow traffic from nearby Buffalo Wild Wings, “but the pizza place has a small, rinky-dink TV.” Now he’s adding several larger ones.

Also, he says Avivo has a beautiful patio where he and Rodriguez plan to add music on the weekends. Arif says he wants to have “the ambiance of an Italian restaurant.”

Rodriguez says Avivo has “a really solid menu,” but he says it’s “missing a lot of opportunity with upsells.” Currently, customers wait in a line to order and pay and then sit down, but Rodriguez says that makes ordering more food or drinks difficult, so he’s going to switch to table service instead of the line.

“I’m going to go out and shake things up a little bit,” Rodriguez says. “We’re going to make some really positive changes.”

He’s planning to add a happy hour and extend the restaurant’s coffee menu since he says Starbucks and Panera Bread are his only coffee competitors in the area.

Rodriguez says he wants to use “all the tools to take them up another notch.”

He says his family will continue to run Anna Murdoc’s.

“It’s in good hands, and we’re going to continue to operate business as usual.”

After making updates at Avivo, Rodriguez says, he and Arif will look to expand to downtown, the east side and beyond.

He says they want to remain flexible.

“If something else presents itself, we can rock and roll.”