Don’t worry about your favorite pie going away anytime soon.
Or the pan-fired chicken or steak or salad with the famous dressing or whatever your favorite meal is at Mr. K’s Farmhouse Restaurant.
Tammy and Todd Kuntz have begun the process of selling the historic restaurant, but like Lena Benson before them, they are in no hurry to do so and are taking the time to find just the right buyer, they said.
“We will not close,” Tammy said. “We will keep running it until we find a buyer.”
The right buyer is “ideally someone who’s going to be involved in the community,” Todd said.
“We haven’t met them yet,” said Tammy, but they are starting the search early and expect it will take months to find the right person, someone who will embrace the history.
The history goes back to 1938 when Benson opened Lena’s in the 1888 farmhouse on the hill. She had, however, been running eateries in the area since 1926.
Lena’s was nationally known, maybe world famous. Big bands and actor Jimmy Stewart ate there. It was popular with the greyhound racing people and former Abileneans Dwight Eisenhower and Marlin Fitzwater.
Not even Eisenhower’s prestige protected him on his birthday from Lena’s paddling him with an old oven bread paddle.
The Kuntzes also revived that tradition with Todd surprising Eisenhower’s granddaughter, Mary Jean Eisenhower, with a paddling.
She returned the favor on his birthday.
“It was a hoot,” he said, of both occasions.
Benson retired in 1974, closing the restaurant and living in the farmhouse.
In 1994, Ed and June Kuntz saw a “for sale” sign on the property and bought it. They called their son Todd back home to Abilene to run it. They moved Mr. K’s Buckboard from on North Buckeye to serve more people and renamed it Mr. K’s Farmhouse.
Benson knew what their plans were and was excited to think her restaurant would come back to life, Todd said. She died a few months later, before the restaurant opened in June. But her sister Nellie helped them start back up.
Todd and Tammy officially bought the restaurant from Ed and June in 2001.
“Simply put, we’ve worked the majority of weekends for the last 24 years,” Tammy said. “We’re a little bit different as far as owners go. He cooks. I wait tables. We’re here every day. We’re working owners. We’re doing it.”
“We’ve worked 25 years six days a week, never having weekends off,” Todd said, and he’s getting close to 60.
“Now we have grandkids, and we have kids who are spread out, two in Oregon, one in Kansas City, one in Wichita,” he said. “It’s time to put more time into our kids and grandkids. We decided this would be a good time to start the process because it might take some time to find the right person.”
“Being a part of the community is a big thing for us,” Todd said. “They definitely have to want to be in it for the long haul. They can’t just come in and be here for five years and gone.”
“We’re hoping to find someone who will embrace and keep all our (20-25) employees,” Tammy said.
They won’t insist the new owners keep things just as they were. Even if they’re selling, they can’t stop dreaming a bit.
“They need to do their own thing here, that’s for sure,” Todd said. “If they want to carry on what we’re doing, they can. We know there are so many things we’ve always wanted to do that they could do to make it better than we’ve made. That’s what we really want, to take it the next step.”
They could see adding outdoor seating and perhaps integrate music. Although the restaurant is just minutes from downtown Abilene, it feels like it’s in the country, Tammy said.
Microbreweries are the big thing nowadays, Todd said, and the restaurant, on 1.3 acres, is surrounded by farmland. In fact, 10.9 acres is also for sale, with the restaurant or separately. Could be a nice vineyard, he suggested.
The restaurant, their home and 10.9 acres of farmland are listed with Landmark Commercial Real Estate in Wichita, separately or together, although the Kuntzes won’t sell the house until the restaurant sells, and maybe not then, depending on what they do.
A friendly ghost, possibly Ed Kuntz, might stay with the restaurant. Tammy said they’ve heard footsteps upstairs which is not used and they’ve “felt” Ed’s presence.
But who knows? Maybe it’s Lena.
Contact Jean Bowers at firstname.lastname@example.org.