Mexican restaurant Felipe’s celebrates 55 years in Wichita

Felipe’s Mexican Restaurant celebrated its 50th anniversary in 2017.

But the five years since have been some of the most interesting for the Wichita institution — and in some ways the toughest, says owner Felipe Lujano Jr.

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The COVID-19 pandemic, which closed restaurants in early 2020 and has since wreaked havoc with staff, supply chain issues and price increases, has also affected Felipe’s, a local chain of four restaurants. which Lujano’s father – the late Felipe Lujano Sr. – created. in February 1967.

Felipe has just turned 55 and the owners are celebrating this milestone by reflecting on the past five decades and five years.

owners of Felipes
Today, Felipe’s flagship restaurant and newest at 119th and Maple are run by founder Felipe Lujano Sr.’s wife and sons: left to right, Poncho Lujano, Lucia Lujano and Felipe Lujano Jr. Denise Neil The Wichita Eagle

Lujano Jr., who, along with his 86-year-old mother, Lucia, and younger brother, Poncho Lujano, runs Felipe’s at 3434 W. Central and 119th and maple, says the channel has emerged from the pandemic changed but stronger. (Felipe’s Jr. at 9718 E. Harry is today owned and operated by Lujano Sr.’s niece and husband, Chela and Martin Martinez, and Felipe’s at 21st and Woodlawn is owned and operated by Lujano Sr.’s brother, Roberto Lujano. )

At the start of COVID-19, Lujano Jr. said, his restaurants only opened for takeout and customers stayed with them.

“We only significantly exceeded our sales in delivery for a while, so that was good,” Lujano said.

During a spike in COVID cases in December 2020, Felipe’s restaurants reduced their weekday lunch hours, and three of them never resumed them: 3434 W. Central, 119th and Maple and 21st and Woodlawn . Felipe Jr. always serves lunch on weekdays and all four have lunch on weekends.

exterior of Felipes
Felipe turned 55 this month. Denise Neil The Wichita Eagle

Lujano Jr. said the family liked the slower pace, as did the staff. It’s unclear when they’ll resume weekday lunch service, and customers have been understanding.

“We went back and forth,” he said. “But we’re happy to have a life outside of the restaurant, and we don’t want to overburden the people we have who have stuck around forever.”

Today, Felipe’s is best known for its gooey enchiladas, fried flour tacos, giant burritos, and fish bowl-sized Flaming Cazuela cocktails. But his beginnings are humble.

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Felipe Mexican restaurant owners Poncho and Felipe Lujano Jr. say their father, Felipe Sr., invented the restaurant’s famous Flaming Cazuela drink in the 1980s. Jaime Green The Wichita Eagle

Felipe Lujano Sr. was from Tepatitlan, Mexico, who in his twenties immigrated to the United States and eventually landed in Newton, where relatives had a Mexican restaurant. In the early 1960s, he and a partner opened Tepa on North Broadway in Wichita, but the partnership fell apart, and in 1967 Lujano Sr. found his own space to rent on West Central.

He built his restaurant empire from there, and along the way, he shared his knowledge with a huge crop of future Wichita Mexican restaurant entrepreneurs. Many Mexican restaurants that have operated in the Wichita area over the years have their roots at Felipe’s, where their founders worked and learned from Lujano Sr.: Cortez and La Chinita in Wichita, Fabiola’s in Wellington, and Acapulco in Newton among them. .

Lujano Sr. died in 2003 at the age of 66 after a 10-month battle with liver cancer, but his son says he is happy the family is still preserving his legacy.

“It’s definitely a milestone,” Lujano Jr. said of the restaurant’s 55th anniversary. “We appreciate our time here and our customers.”

two philips
Felipe Lujano Sr., right, founded Felipe’s in 1967. Today, his two adult sons, including Felipe Jr., left, and his wife, still run two of the four remaining restaurants. Courtesy picture

This story was originally published February 7, 2022 2:29 p.m.

Denise Neil has been covering restaurants and entertainment since 1997. Her Dining with Denise Facebook page is where diners can get local restaurant information. She is a regular judge at local cooking competitions and speaks to groups all over Wichita about the restaurant business.

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