Chef George Youssef buys Food For Thought building for future business

WICHITA — The former Food For Thought space at 2929 E. Central is likely to soon have some food in it once again.

Caterer and former restaurateur George Youssef has purchased the building with a partner.

“I love the building,” Youssef says of the 15,000-square-foot space. “It’s a huge building.”

Though he says he knew he wanted the space, Youssef still isn’t entirely sure what for.

“There’s no plan right now,” he says. “I’m waiting for the right idea.”

That’s likely to involve catering and possibly a party rental business.

“We’re still in the process of studying it.”

Food For Thought, which billed itself as Wichita’s only full-service independent natural foods market left in the area, closed late last year. It had been in the building for the last two decades of its more than four decades in business.

Youssef, who used to own Uptown Bistro and Nouvelle Cafe, says he’ll let us know what he’s going to do with the building.

“It has character,” he says of the space. “So I want to make sure I’m doing the right thing.”

Contractor Larry Cook files mechanics lien against YO-B owner Nabil Bacha

WICHITA — Contractor Larry Cook has filed a mechanics lien against YO-B owner Nabil Bacha for $87,882.

On the advice of his attorney, Cook says he won’t comment, but Bacha has plenty to say.

“The construction was embarrassing,” Bacha says of Cook’s work on the new Old Town Square restaurant, which opened in February in the former Luca Italian Kitchen space, which previously was Uptown Bistro.

Bacha, who also owns Cafe Bel Ami, says it took Cook “seven months to do four walls” during which time he saw three other area restaurants either renovated or opened.

“I don’t know why that’s such a hard time for him to do. Maybe he should not be in the construction business to start with.”

Cook’s attorney, Frank Ojile, doesn’t address specific claims by Bacha, but he says that “basically, we deny his claims.”

“My client hasn’t been paid, and we filed the mechanics lien, and I probably won’t have further comment … because of possible future litigation.”

Bacha says renovating the space for YO-B, a burger and yogurt restaurant, was supposed to be an $80,000 project and was to be completed by Oct. 15.

Cook “never delivered,” Bacha says.

“I had to have him redo so many things that were wrong,” he says. “Nothing was going right.”

Bacha says he paid almost $79,000 and then Cook told him he needed more money. Bacha says Cook kept changing the amount.

Bacha says he pointed out issues with the bill, and he says Cook told him he would take care of them. Instead, Bacha says, he got the lien.

“All of a sudden, that’s what I saw.”

In addition to saying he doesn’t owe Cook anything more, Bacha says he lost a lot of money due to the delays, and he’s left disillusioned with the process.

“I’m professional. I have never been through something like this.”

Luca Italian Kitchen closes; YO-B to open

UPDATED — Melad Stephan has sold his Luca Italian Kitchen.

Another downtown restaurateur, Nabil Bacha, took possession of it this afternoon.

“We wanted to bring something a bit different,” says Bacha, who owns Cafe Bel Ami at 229 E. William.

He considered doing something possibly called Bel Ami Bistro, which would have been similar to Stephan’s popular Uptown Bistro that was at the entrance to Old Town Square before Luca.

Bacha decided that’s too much like what is already in Old Town, though.

“They’re all competing against each other,” he says of sit-down restaurants there. “There’s just too many.”

Bacha decided to go another route with yogurt, custard and one really, really tasty burger, which he says will be similar to the popular In-N-Out Burger on the West Coast.

The name is tentatively YO-B, for yogurt and burgers.

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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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Italian Bistro to open in former Restaurant 155 space at First and Market

WICHITA — A third new Italian restaurant is coming to Wichita.

Kas Zendeli, who owns Bravo’s Italiani in Valley Center, is opening Italian Bistro in the former Restaurant 155 space in the Market Centre downtown at First and Market.

This follows news from Melad Stephan, who is opening Luca Italian Kitchen in his former Uptown Bistro space in Old Town Square later this month.

Bocco Deli owner Nathan Toubia, who used to work for Lidia’s in Kansas City, also is opening an Italian restaurant. His as-of-yet-unnamed business is coming soon to the former Sugar Sisters Bakery & Cafe space near Central and Oliver.

Zendeli, who is Albanian, plans a traditional Italian menu for his new restaurant. He’s keeping his Valley Center restaurant, too.

Is he a glutton for punishment having two restaurants in two cities?

“Every business is punishment,” Zendeli says. “Since 1969 I’m in this punishment.”

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Melad Stephan chooses a name for his new Italian bistro: Luca Italian Kitchen

WICHITA — Melad Stephan has settled on a name for his new Italian restaurant, which will open in the middle of May where his Uptown Bistro used to be in Old Town Square.

Luca Italian Kitchen is named for Gianluca Sciagata, the restaurant’s new Italian chef, who’s coming via Aspen, Colo.

So what will happen when Sciagata one day leaves the restaurant?

“Ahhh, well, the name will stay,” Stephan says.

He adds, “I hope he’s going to be around for a while.”

Melad Stephan to open Italian restaurant in former Uptown Bistro space

UPDATED — He’s been talking about it for some time, and now he’s going to do it.

Melad Stephan is opening an Italian restaurant in his former Uptown Bistro space in Old Town Square.

He hasn’t chosen a name yet.

“This time I’m going to pick something easy for people to pronounce instead of Oeno or Sabor or anything else,” he says of two of his other Old Town businesses.

Stephan has hired Gianluca Sciagata to be his chef.

The Italy native most recently has been working in Aspen, Colo.

So why would he want to come here?

“That’s the first thing I asked him,” Stephan says.

“He said cost of living.”

Sciagata, who says he’s fluent in Italian, Spanish and English, is moving here in early May.

He has an Italian pizzaiolo license, which means he’s adept at making pizzas, and his specialty is cooking in wood-burning ovens.

Stephan is checking to see if he can incorporate a wood-burning oven into his kitchen.

Following some remodeling, he hopes to have the restaurant open by the middle of May.

Old Town’s Uptown Bistro to close April 2

WICHITA — After months of speculation — and some denials — Melad Stephan says he’s closing Uptown Bistro in Old Town Square on April 2.

“That store hasn’t lived up to my standards in food and service and sales,” he says. “I’ll take the blame for some of it. Or most of it.”

Stephan signed a new 5-year-lease last month.

“I’m not going to leave that spot. I’m going to do something with it some day.”

He’s working on a new concept, but he won’t share details yet.

Stephan grew fed up with Uptown Bistro.

“I told them the other day, if I hear one more complaint, I’m shutting the doors down,” he says. “I’m done with everybody.”

Stephan says he couldn’t be there enough to oversee and correct operations.

He also owns Sabor Latin Bar & Grille, Egg Cetera, Oeno and Press.

So has he considered perhaps limiting himself to only one or two restaurants?

“I have in the past,” Stephan says. “You know what? You do one thing     . . . you get bored with it.”

He says he could don his chef’s coat and revive Uptown Bistro on his own, but he doesn’t want to.

“Do I have the passion and the time and the effort to do it at this stage in my life? I don’t.”

He’s been in the restaurant business 25 years.

“You know, just the routine kills you. You want to advance your life.”

Look for an update on the space as soon as Stephan makes a final decision.

You don’t say

“Well, you know, can a guy make a mistake?”

Uptown Bistro owner Melad Stephan, who says he forgot to renew his liquor license and that it will be reinstated Thursday

You don’t say

“I’m going to start a rumor about how Uptown Bistro is closing down.”

— Restaurateur Melad Stephan on how his business at the east-side Sabor skyrocketed after a Have You Heard? item about how the restaurant was struggling