Well-known Wichita chef will open his first solo restaurant this fall in downtown Wichita
Denise Neil, Wichita Eagle9/15/2023
Chef Josh Rathbun is opening a new dinner restaurant called Lotte in the space at Fidelity Bank’s RISE Car Park, Market and English, that First Mile Cantine vacated in April. JAIME GREEN The Wichita Eagle
Chef Josh Rathbun is well-known in Wichita for his time leading kitchens at places like Siena Tuscan Steakhouse, Elderslie Farm and Public at The Brickyard.
But soon, Rathbun will have a restaurant that’s all his own.
Earlier this afternoon, Rathbun and leaders at Fidelity Bank announced to their staff that Rathbun would be taking over the vacant restaurant space at 320 N. Market, which is on the ground floor of the bank’s RISE Car Park. The space was previously home to First Mile Cantine, but it closed in April.
Rathbun is naming the restaurant Lotte (pronounced law-tee), an ode to his 8-year-old daughter, Charlotte. It’ll be a “wonderful little dinner restaurant,” Rathbun said, where he can serve the type of farm-to-table, seasonally inspired dishes he’s become known for in Wichita.
“I’ll continue with what I’ve been good at, which is the farm-to-table stuff,” Rathbun said. “This is going to give me an opportunity to do fun, seasonal food without being hemmed in as far as style. I can really just focus on the season, the local produce and whatever flavors are exciting to me at the moment.”
He’s hoping to open by late October.
Rathbun said he doesn’t plan to make Lotte a fine dining restaurant, per se. He describes the style of food he’ll serve as “elevated comfort food.”
He’s from Wichita, he said, and he wants the restaurant to accurately reflect Wichita. He doesn’t want it to be pretentious, stuffy or inaccessible, he said.
“I want to have food available that’s approachable for everybody and not too out of a price range where you can’t go without it being a special occasion,” he said.
The car park is only about two years old, and the restaurant space Rathbun is taking over is almost brand new. First Mile Cantine operated there for only nine months.
But Rathbun said he will make some changes to the appearance of the dining room to make it his own. He’ll bring in new tables, chairs and dishes.
Rathbun said he’s hired Zakk Thomas, his former sous chef from Siena Tuscan Steakhouse, to be his chef de cuisine at Lotte.
Zakk Thomas, left, will work as the chef de cuisine at Josh Rathbun’s new restaurant, Lotte. Jaime Green The Wichita Eagle
“We have a great relationship,” Rathbun said of Thomas, who most recently was working as chef de cuisine at Napoli Italian Eatery. “I’m really looking forward to working with him. He’s a huge talent that’s overlooked in the city.’
The pair will use ingredients sourced from local farmers and also will get produce from the car park’s rooftop farm, called RISE Farms and run by Leah Danner-Garcia.
Lotte will start off serving dinner Tuesdays through Saturdays evenings, Rathbun said. He won’t serve lunch at first but plans to add it eventually. Lotte also will provide catering for Fidelity.
The new restaurant will have a full bar, and Rathbun plans to utilize the patio on the east end of the space that’s connected to the dining room by a garage door.
Back before COVID-19, when Fidelity was first looking for a tenant for the space, Rathbun almost signed on. He was working at Siena Tuscan Steakhouse at the time, he said.
Rathbun said he and the bank tried to make a partnership work, but at the time, it wouldn’t. When he later heard that First Mile Cantine had closed, he said, he immediately started making inquiries about the space.
Melissa Knoeber, director of culture and talent for Fidelity, said that the bank was thrilled that the timing worked out this time, adding that the bank always likes to support new entrepreneurs.
The logo for Lotte, a new dinner restaurant that chef Josh Rathbun plans to open this fall at Market and English in downtown Wichita Courtesy
“I’m very excited to be able to work with someone who is so very well respected in the Wichita community,” Knoeber said. “Josh’s experience is just really something that sets him apart.”
Rathbun, whose first restaurant job was washing dishes at Watermark Cafe at age 15, went on to work in kitchens across Wichita, the country and the world. His early resume includes stints at Wichita’s Cibola, The Anchor and Lakeside Club.
He left Wichita as a young man and worked in a couple of restaurants in Australia. He also worked in Denver under well-known chef and James Beard nominee Alex Seidel at his restaurant, Mercantile. While there, Rathbun was named one of Zagat’s top 30 under 30 of restaurant industry professionals in Denver.
Eventually, Rathbun and his wife, Andrea — who he met while working at Lakeside Club — had Charlotte and decided to move back home to raise her.
Rathbun said he’s happy to finally be opening a restaurant that’s his own.
“This is really big for me because this is my opportunity to finally be ‘the guy,’” he said. “I’ve always been in situations where I’ve been afforded a lot of freedom and afforded great opportunities, but I’ve never had the full responsibility of ownership and with it, the final say. And so that’s something I’m very much looking forward to — to really express myself and to also create a space in Wichita that’s unique from a professional point of view.”