Since news of his plans to open a restaurant called Red Bird came out over the weekend, Sebastian Gordon has gotten a few messages from diners wondering if his restaurant is a reincarnation of one of Wichita’s most beloved restaurants from the past: Dr. Redbird’s Medicinal Inn, a local sandwich chain that had locations around Wichita from the early 1970s through the mid 1980s.
It’s not — and although Gordon will be offering his own slate of sandwiches he hopes will also become Wichita classics — they won’t be the Dr. Redbird’s Daily Regulator or The Supreme Preservative.
Gordon, who has been planning his restaurant for two years, had his heart set on the name Red Bird as an ode to his mother, Jeanne, who died in 2016. She would always tell her son that seeing a red male cardinal guaranteed a lucky day, and cardinals are now Gordon’s favorite bird.
“I don’t know why, but that stuck with me,” he said. “I don’t have too many lucky days, but I sure look for them.”
When my book “Classic Restaurants of Wichita” was published last year, Gordon was flipping through it when he saw the entry on Dr. Redbird’s, which was owned by Rich and Marni Vliet. Gordon wasn’t born until after the restaurants were gone, but the Vliets were his family’s College Hill neighbors when he was a child, and his mother was friends with Marni. Gordon said Marnie Vliet dropped off a Christmas stocking for him when he was born that his family still uses.
“That’s why my stocking doesn’t look like the rest of my siblings’,” he said.
Gordon said he reached out to Marni to let her know about his plans.
On Monday, Vliet said that she had many fond memories of Gordon, especially as a young boy. Her daughters, now grown, would often babysit for him.
She and her late husband, Rich, chose the name Dr. Redbird’s based on an old cowboy outlaw named Jesse Redbird. She was touched when Gordon told her his reasoning for choosing the name.
“We share a fondness for that expression,” she said.
Now, Gordon is focused on the next steps for his restaurant, which is taking over a spot in the about-to-be-renovated Normandie Center at Central and Woodlawn.
It will focus on unique sandwiches, homemade soups (including his wife, Ashley’s, famous spicy chicken noodle soup) and salads. The featured sandwich, Gordon said, will be a Cuban topped with Jimmy Vo’s pickles and made on a homemade bread that Gordon says will provide the correct Cuban sandwich crunch.
He also plans to serve things like a homemade roast beef sandwich, a Reuben, and lemon garlic Parmesan wedge fries, which he describes as “ridiculously good.”
The restaurant, which will have seating for about 85 inside, will also have a patio out front that can be open to the restaurant on nice weather days. Gordon also plans to serve craft beer and cocktails and natural wines. Red Bird will be a full-service restaurant that will be open for lunch and dinner Mondays through Saturday with the kitchen closing at 9 or 10 pm and the bar staying open until 2 am
Gordon said his architects are submitting plans to the city now, and once they’re done, he’ll have a better idea of the restaurant’s timeline. But he hopes to have it open fall.
Local diners will recognize Gordon as the manager on the ground at both Dempsey’s Burger Pub and the former Dempsey’s Biscuit Co. He’s been working for and with owner Steven Gaudreau for years, first in Lawrence and then when he moved back home in 2014. He’ll keep working for Dempsey’s until it’s time to move over to Red Bird, he said.
Gordon, who lives near Normandie, said he’s excited to be able to walk to work. He hopes to create a relaxing, affordable meetup spot for people who live in the area.
“I feel like I’ve done a good job for Dempsey’s in creating a neighborhood spot for College Hill,” he said. “And that’s the goal for this one, too.”
This story was originally published June 27, 2022 2:04 PM.