Longtime Wichita caterer and restaurant owner Ben Arnold has an unusual view of retirement.
Arnold, who’s owned and run Wichita’s Corporate Caterers for almost 24 years and who’s also owned AVI — the restaurant inside the Drury Plaza Hotel Broadview downtown at Douglas and Waco — since 2011 says he’s in the process of planning his “slowdown.” And if all goes as planned, it’ll happen in 2025.
Part one of his plan is to find an east-side hotel with restaurant and banquet space that is in need of an independent restaurant operator. If he’s able to do that, he said, he’ll open a second AVI restaurant. He’s specifically looking at the area north of K-96 — near the area where Topgolf operates — where two different developers are considering building new hotels, and he’s already in early talks with one of them, he said.
Once he’s achieved that goal, he said, his plan is to close or sell Corporate Caterers and focus solely on the two restaurants.
If he can pull it off, Arnold said, he’ll go from working six and a half days a week to just six, and that — to Arnold — sounds relaxing.
These days, Arnold not only runs AVI but also provides all the catering for events at the Drury. His Corporate Caterers, which is based at the hotel, also caters outside events like business meetings and weddings.
It’s the outside catering that wears on him, Arnold said. It requires a fleet of vehicles and lots of equipment, and it’s exhausting as well as expensive. Last year, he spent $30,000 just maintaining his catering trucks, he said.
Arnold has been slowly backing away from that side of his business for the past four years, he said.
“Before Covid, I wanted to eliminate outside catering,” Arnold said. “That’s always been my retirement plan.”
Arnold said that Corporate Caterers is still quite profitable even though he’s cut back. In its heyday, he said, it could bring in $5.3 million in a single year. After his intentional slowdown, the company has still been averaging $2.4 to $2.9 million.
But Arnold said his life will be less stressful if he’s just handling food service for two hotels and two hotel restaurants. Even in years when AVI was down, the hotel catering would supplement any losses. This year, he said, AVI’s sales have been up 20%.
“My relationship with the Drury hotel has been a huge success, and I know I can duplicate that arrangement,” he said.
Arnold promised to share more details as he gets closer to “retirement” and if he’s able to work out a deal for a second AVI with a new hotel.