Ernie Biggs may reopen this weekend

WICHITA — Ernie Biggs, the dueling piano bar near Central and Rock Road, is temporarily closed.

“We closed this past weekend and the previous weekend,” says Jay Hickman, an Arkansas-based partner in the business.

Hickman and Daniel Bryant along with two silent partners have bought out their Wichtia-based partners, including Whitney VinZant.

That meant a change in names on the liquor license, which means the business is temporarily without one.

“We decided to not risk it and closed it up,” Hickman says. “It’s tough. … It’s just out of our control right now.”

VinZant previously had the Gaslamp Grille & Lounge in that space.

He “got us in that spot, which has turned out to be an incredible spot,” Hickman says. “Business is excellent in Wichita.”

He says it was the goal from the beginning to eventually buy out the Wichita group.

Hickman says he hopes to reopen the business this weekend.

“We’re looking forward to getting back open, I can tell you that much.”

Ernie Biggs owners have financial feud

WICHITA — There’s more dueling going on at Ernie Biggs than just pianos.

The new business in the former Gaslamp Grille & Lounge space also appears to have dueling owners.

The partners in EB Wichita LLC, which has 51 percent operating control of the business, and former Gaslamp owner Whitney VinZant’s Flamboyant LLC, which has 49 percent control, had a financial disagreement.

“To get to the point, you have two choices, tell me today that you are going to put in your share of the money which is approximately $15,000 by tomorrow noon or I am going to operate the business through the weekend, take the money generated to pay our vendors and start shopping for a new location,” EB Wichita partner Daniel Bryant wrote in an e-mail to VinZant on Thursday.

“I don’t care how you take this, but my worst fears are being realized the very first week and I would rather close what looks like will be a very profitable venture than to put up with … like this for the next several years. Every single person in that town has warned us about you since the day we got there and it is becoming more and more evident we should have listened.”

Bryant couldn’t be reached for comment, but his partner, Jay Hickman, says everything is all right now.

“We needed them to put their money in, and they did on Friday,” Hickman says. “Everything got worked out, and everybody’s happy.”

In an e-mail to the partners, VinZant called the request for capital ”unexpected and unfortunate.”

“It is disconcerting that we are being asked to make a Capital Call, when I understand deposits from last week have not been properly processed into our accounts and we’ve been running a negative balance.”

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Ernie Biggs Dueling Piano Bar opens Thursday

WICHITA — The new Ernie Biggs Dueling Piano Bar opens at 7 p.m. Thursday in the former Gaslamp Grille & Lounge near Central and Rock.

It’s more of a soft opening, says co-owner Jay Hickman, who calls it a “sneak peek” of the place.

It’s not clear what former Gaslamp owner Whitney VinZant’s role will be.

“Whitney is not a managing member of this LLC or this business,” Hickman says. “He won’t have anything to do with the day-to-day operations.”

But he does have a role?

“I would rather not get into that.”

Ernie Biggs Dueling Piano Bar opening in former Gaslamp Grille & Lounge

WICHITA — The deal is still somewhat in the works, but it looks like Ernie Biggs Dueling Piano Bar is coming to the former Gaslamp Grille & Lounge near Central and Rock.

“We were divided on that spot or something downtown,” says Jay Hickman.

Hickman and Daniel Bryant are partners in the chain.

There are three Ernie Biggs locations in Missouri — Branson, Kansas City and Springfield — and one in Little Rock.

The Wichita Ernie Biggs will open May 9.

Gaslamp owner Whitney VinZant, who couldn’t be reached for comment, may or may not be a partner in Ernie Biggs.

“We don’t have all that finalized yet,” Hickman says. “We’re trying to work out a deal right now with him and that spot.”

Hickman says there’s no question Ernie Biggs will happen, though. A new sign went up today.

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Louie’s Coffee Dive to open in new Williams Ace Hardware in Goddard

WICHITA — A new coffee shop is going to open in the same building where the new Williams Ace Hardware is opening at 199th and U.S. 54 in Goddard next month.

Louie’s Coffee Dive is coming to the space and will have a drive-through as well.

It looks like some of the same people who once were involved in Mike’s Wine Dive and the Gaslamp Grille & Lounge in Wichita are involved in Louie’s as well.

Corey Gonzalez, the former marketing director at Mike’s and the now-closed Gaslamp, is handling a lot of the details on the opening. He didn’t return numerous calls to comment.

It sounds like former Mike’s and Gaslamp owner Whitney VinZant is a partner in this venture as well. He couldn’t be reached for comment, either.

Sources say plans call for this to be the first of a chain of Louie’s Coffee Dives.

The hardware store’s grand opening is April 13 to 15. It’s not clear when Louie’s will open.


Gaslamp Grille & Lounge future is uncertain

UPDATED — The fate of the Gaslamp Grille & Lounge has been in flux for a while, but its future became even more puzzling on Friday.

That’s when Gaslamp general manager Dave Jewett started letting people know the restaurant will be closing. Specifically, he was alerting musical acts that were scheduled to appear this weekend and on future dates.

Musicians who have played at the bar and restaurant, which is in the former Shadow space near Central and Rock, were informed they won’t be needed anymore.

Neither Jewett nor owner Whitney VinZant returned calls for comment. Nor did anyone answer or return a voicemail left at the restaurant, nor did Gaslamp’s marketing director return a call.

After Have You Heard? posted something online to say the restaurant would be closing, Jewett e-mailed to say it was open and would not be closing after business Friday.

When asked, via e-mail, why he was telling people the business is closing, Jewett didn’t reply.

Prior to the Gaslamp’s late 2010 opening, VinZant told The Eagle: “It’s going to be surprising to a lot of people. When we open, they’re going to see a side of dining they haven’t seen in Wichita.”

The business has struggled, though.

Earlier this month, Have You Heard? reported that VinZant was in talks to possibly change the restaurant’s concept, which has been focused on more upscale dining. A dueling piano bar seemed to be in the running.

Whether that’s still a possibility or whether VinZant may do something else in the space isn’t clear.

We’ll keep you posted.


Gaslamp Grille & Lounge owner possibly retooling the struggling restaurant

The Gaslamp Grille & Lounge near Central and Rock isn’t closing, but it looks like owner Whitney VinZant is trying to retool the restaurant.

He’s talking to at least one group about changing the restaurant’s concept from fine dining to more of a music venue. The kind of music? A dueling piano bar.

The restaurant also has scaled back its hours. VinZant and his marketing director didn’t return calls for comment.



Brothers Brad and Brent Steven sue Mike’s Wine Dive co-owner Whitney VinZant

WICHITA — The relationship among the partners of Mike’s Wine Dive has, to put it in the parlance of the College Hill bar and restaurant, taken a dive.

Brothers Brad and Brent Steven are suing co-founder Whitney VinZant and several other people associated with the almost 2-year-old business near Douglas and Hillside.

“We all agree that the restaurant doesn’t work with all these cooks in the kitchen, so to speak, so we need to part ways,” Brad Steven says. “Either he takes full ownership or we take full ownership, and the lawsuit is to figure that out.”

The three have been friends since high school.

VinZant, who also now owns Gaslamp Grille & Lounge, had previous restaurant experience with Old Chicago and Jimmy’s Egg. The Steven brothers have bar experience through Club Indigo, which they still own, and Backstage Bar and Grill.

The three opened Mike’s Wine Dive in spring 2010. There’s a dispute over who owned what percentage when the business opened and who owns what now.

“There’s too many operating agreements,” Brad Steven says. “Everything is screwed up.”

VinZant says the brothers have a “disregard for the changes we tried to make.”

“We tried to put in place, you know, a more robust inventory management system,” VinZant says. “I’m not going to speculate as to why or how, because frankly I don’t know, but I do know that our costs on both food and beverage costs were really high. We weren’t running the profitability levels that we should be running there.”

The Steven brothers have been gone from the restaurant for a couple of weeks. VinZant says they’d like to buy him out, but he doesn’t want to sell.

“He never really is in town, so I’m not really sure who’s operating the restaurant,” Brad Steven says.

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Ciao Italian Kitchen to open in former Press space at the Waterfront

WICHITA — After almost 30 years of working in the restaurant business for others, Guillermo Perez-Munoz is opening his own place in the former Press space at the Waterfront.

“Why not?” he says, not allowing the previous failures of Piztros, Sabor and Press to deter him.

“We can analyze them — all of them,” Perez-Munoz says of why those businesses didn’t work.

The key, he says, is keeping his focus on food.

“In this area, it’s about families.”

So he’s opening Ciao Italian Kitchen, a 130-seat restaurant that will feature what Perez-Munoz calls the ultimate comfort food.

“We are an Italian kitchen first and foremost,” he says. “Every home is designed around the kitchen, so that’s what we’re doing.”

An extensive menu will include Italian favorites such as pizza, calzone and lasagna along with items such as surf-and-turf dishes.

Perez-Munoz isn’t planning any dishes from his native Puerto Rico, but he says as the business progresses he’ll probably “put some flare into it and bring some crazy pastas.”

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Jimmy’s Egg investment partner Wink Hartman Sr. to buy out managing partner Whitney VinZant

WICHITA — Jimmy’s Egg managing partner Whitney VinZant issued a joint statement with investment partner Wink Hartman Sr. in response to Have You Heard? inquiries about the partnership possibly dissolving.

Hartman is in the due diligence phase of buying the remaining interest of five Jimmy’s Egg franchises in Wichita and one in Houston.

VinZant, who is a partner in Mike’s Wine Dive and the Gaslamp Grille & Lounge, among other restaurants, will no longer be a part of the Jimmy’s Egg franchises here if and when the deal is complete.

“I am excited that Wink is focused on taking this concept to the next level by further expanding into Wichita and surrounding areas,” VinZant said in the statement.

Jimmy’s Egg, a breakfast franchise based in Oklahoma City, has more than 125 employees in Wichita.