For three years, three friends looked for a place they think will push Wichita restaurants and a neighborhood into a new era.
“I fully believe this will become a destination,” Justin Neel said. “I walked in and said, ‘This is it.’ I can see the future of what this area can be, and being a part of that was just incredible.”
By mid-July, Neel and partners Luke Luttrell and David Hopkins expect to open Social Tap Drinkery and Create Kitchens in a 5,680 square-foot space at Braeburn Square (4510 E. 19th St.) on Wichita State University’s campus.
Create Kitchens will feature two restaurant spaces - Sungrano Pizza and one to be named later. The partners describe the concept as a “virtual” kitchen, a trend that seeks to take advantage of technology for paying and ordering and serve customers who want high-quality food to-go.
“Virtual” emphasizes the multitude of ways to order and pay – tap, apps, QR codes, kiosk and in-person. The concept is different from a restaurant because it is intended to do a high volume of carry-out food and carry-out only. The infrastructure used to prepare food comes with the space and is designed to lower overhead for a start-up owner. That helps the owner focus on the food, learn the business and test the product before investing in a permanent spot.
Diners can take the food to Social Tap, connected by a doorway, to eat indoors or on the patio. Social Tap will specialize in local and regional beers on tap, in addition to wine, beer, seltzer, ciders and alcohol-free options.
“We plan to keep a variety of beer flowing through, so every time you come in here, there should be something new on tap,” Hopkins said.
While Social Tap won’t be packed with TV screens, a 163-inch LED TV will show the Shockers. The owners envision it as a place for people to meet (or study) without an overload of screens and distractions.
“It’s going to be great for Wichita State watch parties,” Luttrell said. “It’s not going to be a traditional sports bar. We want people coming here to talk and hang out. Most of the time, the (LED TV) will be running art or content that’s unique, to spur conversation.”
Social Tap Drinkery, Create Kitchens
Wichita State’s Innovation Campus, they believe, is the perfect location to start something that will serve as a restaurant incubator for entrepreneurs and a different kind of eating and drinking option. The food and drink can draw students, faculty, staff and visitors to campus. The concept, popular in other parts of the country, can also bring Wichitans to campus.
Neel, who has worked in restaurants for 27 years, said Create Kitchens offers the place for a budding restaurant owner to get a start at a reasonable price. Space at Create Kitchens – which includes infrastructure such as grills, ranges and hoods – runs between $20,000-40,000. Opening a place on their own, Neel said, could cost $300,000 or more.
“A lot of people start restaurants because they think they have the best barbecue,” Neel said. “They don’t understand how hard it really is and how little money is actually there. You give people the opportunity to really try it out first. Our goal is to, at least every two years, have a new tenant. It’s for them to be successful, not plant here and stay here.”
Even before the pandemic, restaurants began to change to keep up with technology and lifestyle trends. The emphasis on carry-out food also fits a college campus. The "virtual" kitchen is intended to do carry-out efficiently while maintaining quality.
“These are designed and built to handle high volume,” Neel said. “This is what separates virtual kitchens and normal restaurants. Restaurants are built to handle the seats you see in front of you. With the online demand that’s happening. . .. these restaurants weren’t designed to handle all that. These are designed to handle all carryout, and a large quantity of carryout.”
The three friends attended Heights High School and Wichita State together. They are intrigued by the possibilities of bringing new people to a new concept in Wichita for food and beverages. They plan to further connect to the community by donating 1-2 percent of each pizza sold to groups and causes in Wichita Council District 1, the area that includes Wichita State.
“We have the opportunity to give back every day,” Neel said. “They’ve taken us in and we want to give back.”