Wanda J’s may move, but it isn’t going away, owner Ty Walker said Tuesday night.
The popular eatery is in a dispute with its landlord, the Greenwood Chamber of Commerce, that as things stand now will have Wanda J’s looking for a new location by the end of the month.
“We’re trying to work something out,” Walker said. “It’s really more the (Greenwood) Chamber than it is us.”
Walker’s mother opened the first Wanda J’s in the early 1970s. The diner has operated in several locations, mostly in north Tulsa, for most of the years since. It was even on Greenwood for a while in the 1990s, in the space now occupied by Fat Guys Burger Bar.
“Since this has come up I’ve had calls from Collinsville to Okmulgee and from Inola to Cleveland from people saying they have room for us,” Walker said. “I’ve even heard from some people downtown. ... If we do have to move, we will.”
But he would rather not, he said. He likes being on the historic 100 block of North Greenwood Avenue, once the heart of the black community’s thriving commercial district in Tulsa.
Several people standing outside Wanda J’s on Tuesday afternoon said they don’t want the restaurant to move, either. They said they view the current situation not only as a threat to a favorite gathering place but possibly a step in a gentrification plan at the expense of small black-owned businesses.
The Greenwood Chamber did not respond Tuesday to requests for comment, but Walker said he and his attorney were told at a hearing Thursday the chamber does not want to renew Wanda J’s lease.
Formally Wanda J’s The Next Generation, the restaurant opened at 111 N. Greenwood Ave. almost two years ago.
A new lease was to have been signed in September 2017, but changes in the Greenwood Chamber board and management and the death of a Chamber employee delayed the signing.
Then, Walker said, he was presented a three-year contract on a Friday afternoon in June and told he had to sign it by the following Monday. Walker refused. He says he mainly objected to the way the situation was handled and to changes that made him responsible for maintenance issues in the building he shares with several tenants.
“This dispute is not about rent,” Walker said. “The lease was not beneficial to me.
“If they had sat down with my mother and me right away and talked things over, we probably would have signed it.”