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Wichita woman fights to keep iconic family-owned eatery alive

KSN Digital Extra

WICHITA, Kan. (KSNW) – Restaurants and bars have taken a tremendous hit after businesses were asked to shutter doors at the start of coronavirus safety precautions. Co-owner of Harry’s Uptown Bar & Grill says she and the business that’s been in her family for almost 40 years are trying to find the way to a new normal.

Tracy Cocking and her brother took the reins of the iconic College Hill eatery and watering-hole before the passing of their father, a storied Wichita restauranteur and bar owner, in 1991.

Tracy grew up mesmerized with the business even at an early age. Her father, Gary Cocking Sr. played part in opening many popular Wichita bars and clubs through the 1980s.

“He’d been doing it since before I was born. I was about 10-years-old, and I got to go a couple times in the evening and my dad would dance with me. He worked so hard at this. And he was good,” Cocking recalls of her late father and her times in his bars. “I’d watch how they set the bar up and how they would pour the drinks, and then I would get water and pretend like I was making a drink. I’ve loved it my whole life.”

The food and entertainment industry goes deep with the family. Cocking’s grandparents were also restaurant owners, and her brother would spin records at some of their fathers night clubs. “My brother’s been in his whole life. He DJ for my dad at night and 30s when he was 15 years old. One of the biggest nightclubs.”

Along with her daughters, Cocking says the family is sticking together in this tough time to keep doors open not just for business sake, but to preserve the family legacy and the extended family in staff and patrons.  

“I’m just keeping the place alive so my crew has a place to come back to work to number one,” the restaurant owner says. “Well, one-point-five I would say, because number one, I’m fighting for my family and myself and our lives. This is devastating. No one could have predicted this. There’s going to be a lot of business that won’t recover from this.”

Cocking says she sees how much small businesses are struggling during this time and appreciates the groundwork laid by her father.

“So, I’m just waiting for the new normal. My dad worked really, really, really hard to make sure that this place was taken care of and paid for. And we’re lucky. That is the only thing that I think that has saved us.

In a world changing almost by the hour, the restaurant owner says she’s thankful that her family is close by her side, and the Harry’s community has been supportive.

Harry’s is still sussing through details of how to safely re-open in Phase 1.5 and will continue to carry out service in the meanwhile. You can check for opening updates on their Facebook.

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