Deal to buy Luca Italian Kitchen falls through, but Pho Hot Bistro owner Danny Nguyen still looking to open in Old Town

WICHITA — Restaurateur Melad Stephan is back from an overseas trip, so now it’s possible to ask about a little situation that happened with his Luca Italian Kitchen a few weeks ago.

Luca, the Old Town restaurant that replaced Stephan’s once-popular Uptown Bistro, has struggled since opening in 2011. It briefly closed around the time Stephan left for his native Lebanon and a European tour, but the closure wasn’t related to the trip.

Stephan had been negotiating for months with Pho Hot Bistro owner Danny Nguyen to sell him the restaurant.

Nguyen’s Vietnamese restaurant is at 306 N. Rock Road, and he’s interested in having one in Old Town as well.

“We just couldn’t come to an agreement,” Stephan says.

He says he thought the deal would go through, so he stopped ordering food. Stephan says when the sale didn’t happen, he’d already run out of food and had to briefly close.

Nguyen isn’t discussing what happened.

Luca is now open for dinner only. Stephan says he’s saving money by not having to pay for lunch labor. He says the restaurant will remain open, though he adds his standard line: “Everything I have is for sale for the right price.”

Nguyen says he’s still interested in coming downtown.

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New York Times review surprises Minh Hoa Restaurant & Cajun Seafood owner; Wichita surprises restaurant reviewer

UPDATED — Wichitans were surprised to find a New York Times review over the weekend of Minh Hoa Restaurant & Cajun Seafood. No one was more surprised than Sarah Vo, who owns the Wichita restaurant at 1556 N. Broadway.

“Everybody asks me the same question,” Vo says. “Do I have connections?”

She doesn’t, but Bonnie Bing does.

Bing, The Eagle’s recently retired fashion writer, is friends with freelance writer Cheryl Lu-Lien Tan, who wrote the review and also is the author of “A Tiger in the Kitchen.”

“I went to Wichita for one reason: Bonnie Bing,” Tan says.

She and Houston Chronicle food editor Greg Morago know Bing from when she used to cover Fashion Week in New York, and for years they said they planned to visit Wichita.

“When I heard she retired this year, I thought this is finally the year,” Tan says.

Bonnie Bing (center) with friends Cheryl Lu-Lien Tan and Greg Morago.

She spent a week just “to kind of get away from New York” and work on her second book. Tan says it was an especially productive week.

“I guess whenever that book comes out I will have Wichita to thank.”

Tan still had plenty of time to tour and dine around Wichita, and she was impressed.

“This is going to sound probably bizarre,” she says, but, “I loved your grocery stores.” She was floored at how large Thai Binh is and says Wichita has some items New York doesn’t have outside of Chinatown.

Tan thinks the Wichita Art Museum is “just beautiful” and Watermark Books and Cafe, where signed copies of her book are on sale, is “darling” and she’s thrilled to see it thriving. She also enjoyed the Keeper of the Plains, the original Pizza Hut building, Riverside and Delano, where she shot pool at Club Billiards.

Sam Taylor, a poet who teaches English and creative writing at Wichita State University, is a friend of Tan’s and was one of her tour guides. (He also snapped the photo above.)

Tan loves the big sky in Kansas and all the space here, particularly because in New York “I live in a box pretty much.”

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Pho Special to open in Pho Hot’s place on Pawnee

WICHITA — When Pho Hot on Pawnee near the Canal Route closes this month, a new Vietnamese restaurant called Pho Special will open in its place.

This is owner Dung Nguyen’s first restaurant.

Nguyen is not related Danny Nguyen, the owner of Pho Hot, who will continue to operate his Pho Hot Bistro on North Rock Road.

Dung Nguyen plans to serve pho, a noodle soup, along with other traditional Vietnamese dishes.

Pho Hot will close around the 14th or 15th and Pho Special will open June 23.

Pho Hot on Pawnee to close; Rock Road Pho Hot Bistro to remain open

WICHITA — Pho Hot on Pawnee near the Canal Route is closing.

No one with the restaurant is commenting yet, but it looks like Pho Hot will remain open for at least a couple of more months.

After that, the Rock Road Pho Hot Bistro will be the only one left.

The original Pho Hot always seems to have a crowd, particularly at lunch, but the lease is up soon and the owners don’t want to renew.

The Pho Hot at 306 N. Rock opened in August.

Another Pho Hot at NewMarket Square at 21st and Maize is still in the works, though it may not happen until the economy improves.

Pho Hot Bistro owner to expand west, south

WICHITA — His newest restaurant is less than two weeks old, but Danny Nguyen is already at work on his next two concepts.

Nguyen opened Pho Hot Bistro in the former Amarillo Grill space at 306 N. Rock Road on Aug. 21.

It’s a more upscale version of his Pho Hot near Pawnee and the Canal Route.

Now, he’s looking to do a west-side Pho Hot Bistro by the Lowe’s near 29th and Maize.

Nguyen doesn’t have a deal yet but hopes to soon.

He’s also working on an express location for Derby near the Target in the Derby Marketplace at 71st South and Rock Road.

“It’s kind of like Chipotle style,” Nguyen says of his concept.

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