Hatteberg's People - The Hays House

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Sunday, June 10, 2012

On Hatteberg's People, it is starting to be a trend. One of Kansas' most historic businesses, the Hays House in Council Grove, is now in the hands of the residents. A fire damaged the property in December and the owners wanted to sell. And they did... to 25 local investors who didn't want anything to happen to history.

"It's just an old frame building that Seth Hayes built back in 1857. It's just a real piece of history that we just had to keep going," said Tim Tyner with the Flint Hills Investment Group. "It's the most historically significant site in the Flint Hills."

It is the oldest continuous restaurant west of the Mississippi. Located on the Santa Fe Trail in downtown Council Grove, Tourists and local folk make it popular.

Now, the old restaurant is open once again following a December fire. That fire caused the building's owners to put it up for sale. Because the restaurant was too important to the history of the town to have an uncertain future, citizens took action.

"Well, it was hard to say it was a good investment, it was not hard to convince people that we needed to keep the Hays House open and bring it back to the quality every diner was used to," said Tyner.

Twenty-five investors stepped forward to form a company to run the restaurant and keep the Hays House alive. Tyner is the President of the group.

"All small towns have to get together and take care of themselves, because no one else is going to do it for them," he said.

Key to the decision was Chef Rick Paul. He actually owned the restaurant for 20 years, from 1981 to 2002. Through mutual agreement, he returned.

"We want to be able to keep this legacy alive for the next 155 years," said Paul.

Over the years, the Hays House has been key to the community. Council Grove is known for its history, and in the basement of the Hays House, the original bar still exists.

"This is what we do. Our investment group is here for one reason and one reason only, to perpetuate and sustain the Hays House for generations to come," said Tyner.

"We're very lucky that those folks stepped forward, not only for the Hays House, but for Kansas history," said Paul.

Upstairs, visitors can see original walls from the 1850's still visible, and now a key part of the décor. It is touches like these that make Hays House an indispensable part of Kansas history.

"This is actually the towns restaurant, it always has been," said Tyner.

Tyner says when the restaurant was closed for remodeling after the fire, the other businesses on Main Street in Council Grove felt the impact. That's why keeping the historic Hays House in stable hands is key to that community.

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