In Wichita, fun is often a four-letter word.
As in food. Beer. And the arts.
After another four-letter word — jobs — these are what many residents say are among the city’s most attractive features.
“I never thought I was a big foodie until I moved to Wichita,” said Alyssa Peppiatt, who works in marketing and recruitment for BKD, an accounting firm. “There are so many foods to try here.”
As for beer, Peppiatt doesn’t actually like the taste of the stuff. But she loves the vibe that’s been created by the city’s microbreweries over the past couple of years.
“At Central Standard Brewing they have these garage doors that open and you have that half-in-and-half-out environment,” she said, mentioning one popular local brewpub. “The environment is really key.”
Alicia Sanchez, who’s director of diversity and inclusion at Wichita State University, naturally prizes variety. And she says Wichita is packed with it.
“The food, the arts, the cultures, the family-friendly environment,” Sanchez says. “The diversity within the city is amazing, whether it’s the Hispanic community, the Asian community, the LGBT community. That’s something that’s really important to be able to expose my family to.”
Here’s a look at some of what Peppiatt, Sanchez and others are talking about:
The city’s food scene has boomed as Wichitans, like folks everywhere, have become more interested in better and different eating experiences. Leading the innovation charge have been the city’s food trucks, which in the last decade have exerted a huge impact. Some, such as the pioneering Flying Stove, feature wide-ranging, creative menus that change daily. Others, like the Noble House Hawaiian Plate Lunch, specialize in one type of cuisine. The truck operators often cooperate in staging street festivals or take turns parking outside brewpubs and in other regular locations, creating communal dining spaces where none existed before.
For sit-down dining, there are many chain restaurants and some locally owned eateries on the city’s east and west sides. The city’s core neighborhoods — including Old Town, College Hill and Delano — boast a big concentration of local restaurants. On Douglas Avenue alone, these range from A (The Anchor) to Z (Ziggy’s).
Wichita starts with one more culinary advantage over many cities of its size: a diverse population that naturally leads to some great ethnic food. Travel anywhere in the country and you’ll have a hard time finding a bigger, better collection of Vietnamese restaurants. The same could be said of Lebanese and Mexican restaurants.
Specifically, this refers to locally brewed beer (although plenty of the rest is consumed as well). Over the past couple of years, a half-dozen new microbreweries have sprung up, each with devoted fans. There are now five breweries in the downtown area alone: Central Standard Brewing, Hopping Gnome, Aero Plains, Third Place Brewing and River City Brewing Co., creating opportunities for the kind of comparison tasting and friendly competition that fans of the stuff love. Other area purveyors include Wichita Brewing Co. and Bricktown Brewery — both with locations on the east and west side — plus Walnut River Brewing in El Dorado and Hank Is Wiser Brewery in Cheney.
Like the food trucks, the brewpubs have shown how cooperation can benefit all alike, by serving each other’s products and participating side-by-side in various events.
Suzy Finn, executive director of Young Professionals of Wichita, said members of that group listed arts and cultural events high among the attractions they enjoy. Riverfest has been revitalized, and there’s another festival — or two — for almost every month of the year, including Tallgrass Film Festival, Asian Festival, North End Urban Arts Festival and Autumn and Art. The Wichita Art Museum has stepped up its outreach with events such as Art Chatter, concerts and Color Party. The Intrust Bank Arena downtown attracts some of the biggest names in entertainment, while monthly art crawls showcase the work of local talent.
Sanchez, who has a 4-year-old son, said she and her husband were happy to discover how many “family-friendly” activities are available in Wichita. Watson Park with its miniature train, Exploration Place, Botanica, the Museum of World Treasures and Sedgwick County Zoo — considered one of the nation’s best — can all be enjoyed without busting the family budget. The city’s YMCA system is also a model nationwide, with water parks and premier facilities for youth sports. The city’s extensive system of bike paths is free.
‘BIG SMALL-TOWN FEEL’
Several people interviewed for this story said the city’s size and “big small-town feel” make it an attractive place to live.
“I don’t know if this is an amenity, but traffic is nonexistent in the city of Wichita, “ said Alejo Cabral, a native of San Diego, Calif. “I think that’s great.”
Cabral, who works for the Wichita Chamber of Commerce, moved to Kansas to play football at Bethel College in North Newton, then transferred to WSU to complete his degree.
“I feel like the attitude of the city has changed significantly from when I first moved here,” he said. “I think that’s helped. The number of small businesses is a great amenity. I don’t mean just restaurants, but coffee shops, breweries. My favorite is we have good coffee shops. Everywhere you go, it’s good coffee and nice people. I think that’s a great amenity.”
Portia Portugal, who moved here from Phoenix, agreed about the traffic, and also said the city’s size makes it easy to get involved. She’s active in Young Professionals of Wichita and Wichita Urban Professionals and just started a “lean-in” group to promote gender equality in the workplace. “It’s just a matter of like raising your hand and you can get pretty plugged in.”
Portugal, who works for Dress For Success, also loves the Warren Theater locations. “These are best I’ve seen anywhere, and I’ve seen quite a few.”
Zach Wiggins, a Wichita native and lawyer who will be YPW’s chair next year, counts the area’s golf courses as a big plus. As a downtown resident, he said, “There’s always something to do — Riverfest, block parties, concerts — if you’re willing to look for it.”
Peppiatt knew virtually nothing about Wichita when she moved here from Salina two years ago. Now she’s got a spreadsheet filled with suggestions she’s gotten for things to do. She plans to start a blog to inspire others to do the same.
Sanchez says she urges WSU students who aren’t from Wichita to get off campus and see the city. “We’re going to expose them to things they don’t realize, so hopefully after graduation they’ll stay in the city of Wichita.”