KANSAS - The new owners and operators of the small diner in Kansas are forming relationships one fresh-cooked meal at a time.
Mark and Sarah Beals of Paris opened the restaurant called Grandma’s Kitchen in early November 2017.
“The entire Kansas community has supported the diner from the beginning. We have been treated extremely well by the residents and everyone is neighborly,” said Mark Beals who has been a chef for more than 35 years. “I like to say we don't have a couple of hundred customers. Instead, I say we have a couple of hundred new, loyal friends. People visit the restaurant and share their lives with us.”
The opportunity to open the small diner, which serves home cooking with culinary flare, literally fell onto the couple’s plate after a friend acquired the building.
“He called me right away and said Kansas needs a restaurant,” Mark Beals explained.
Before agreeing to the venture, the Beals talked with local residents to find out what type of restaurant the community of only 737 residents wanted.
“It has been a great experience so far. We are truly surprised by the overwhelming response,” Mark Beals said.
Sarah Beals added many people in the community donated work to get the restaurant open and renovated to meet the specific culinary needs, especially in the kitchen area.
“Locals have donated their support by walking in the doors offering to help,” said Mark Beals. For example, water superintendent Andrew Henn quickly remedied the frozen water lines and other residents have volunteered to fix small structural issues.
The 100-year-old building located at the corner of Front Street and Buena Vista has been a community landmark for decades. It once housed the popular Ted’s Restaurant that served at a long sit-down counter and had a juke box located in the back.
Grandma’s Kitchen offers a wide range of foods, mostly American cuisine in a casual atmosphere decorated with Coca-Cola memorabilia and antiques. The diner has a large regular menu along with several daily specials, and it boasts of a large breakfast menu. Currently, it operating with winter hours from 10:30 a.m. to 8 p.m. Monday through Friday and 7 a.m. to 2 p.m. Saturday and Sunday. Mark Beals said the restaurant will expand hours when farming season starts.
“During planting season we will open quite a bit earlier,” he said. “I have a farm and rural background so can relate to a majority of the customers.”
Beals is originally from Paris, but left the area in the 1980s to attend culinary school in Florida and a career cooking in the southern portion of the United States, including eastern Tennessee. He even served royalty while managing and cooking on an oil drilling platform off the southern coast of the United States.
His first food industry job was in the meat department of the former Paris Bridwell’s Grocery Store. He returned to his native Edgar County in 2010.
The diner features different special menu items according to what is in season for various meal ingredients. Mark Beals said he purchases a majority of the establishment’s ingredients locally and primarily from the Amish.
“I try to shop locally,” he said. “I trade with the Amish to get organic vegetables without the organic price tag along with free-range beef and other meat. It’s a better quality product with no additives or preservatives. It is important to keep the money in our local economy.”
In addition, the couple also caters meals upon request and are equipped to serve meals to a crowd off premises. He explained they own a portable, full outdoor kitchen equipped with a large smoker. A future catering event features smoked game for an Indiana sportsman club.
They met while working in the food industry at Indiana State University.
“I was a sous chef at ISU working in the kitchen and managing the food service,” said Mark Beals, “And I ran the carryout food service in the dorms. And the rest is history. We began dating and here we are today,” said Sarah Beals.
As a youngster, Mark Beals enjoyed culinary duties while visiting family during the summer.
“My family was in the restaurant business,” he said. “When I visited my cousins during the summer I worked alongside them in the restaurant.”
Future plans for Grandma’s Kitchen are to continue upgrading the kitchen and dining areas and incorporating specialty items he enjoys cooking, such as Cajun and Creole meals.
“Most customers enjoy the southern foods once they are tasted,” Mark Beals said. “But if they can’t pronounce the name then honestly, the customers will not buy it. We plan to be here for a long time and eventually serve specialty items according to the diners’ taste and preference.”
Sarah Beals agreed, adding, “We are here to serve the community and offer hearty, farm-boy home-cooked meals. We like what we are doing and we enjoy it. So, we are here to stay.”
Customer Chuck Rhoden ordered his favorite dish, a grilled hamburger with all the toppings and a side of fried onion rings. The Kansas native and farmer visits the restaurant several times a week.
“I know when I come here I will get a burger made with fresh beef,” Rhoden said. “Yesterday’s homemade potato soup was amazing.”
Standing behind the service kitchen window, Mark Beals added, “Better quality fresh ingredients equals a better finished product.”