Council Grove’s Hays House reopened today after damage from a kitchen fire in December caused it to close.
The historic restaurant, which opened in 1857 by Seth M. Hays, is the oldest continuously operating restaurant west of the Mississippi. It is also under new management. Rick Paul, who owned the restaurant from 1988-2002 is returning as the general manager and executive chef along with 25 other investors, including Jeopardy! contestant and Council Grove resident Dennis Wright.
Prior to the fire, Doug Wilkerson operated the restaurant.
The fire destroyed the kitchen and caused extensive smoke damage throughout the restaurant on Dec. 14. It has been closed for remodeling since then.
Paul said the kitchen has been rebuilt and the restrooms along with restaurant’s interior have been updated.
Customers walking in to the Hays House for the opening will see a familiar sight, said Paul.
“We wanted to maintain the integrity of the building (during the repairs),” Paul said of the Hays House.
Paul said the restaurant held a dinner for the investors earlier this week and did another soft opening Thursday. The restaurant will hold a grand opening later, which will have more promotions and fanfare. Right now, Paul said he wants to focus on the restaurant and work out all the kinks.
“We have a whole new staff and getting everyone to learn do things the Hays House way takes time,” Paul, who started at the restaurant in 1981, said.
Paul’s goal is to set the restaurant back in time.
“I think we’re back in tune to where we were 15 years ago,” Paul said. “Our little town of 2,200 people tracked 120,000 through the restaurant every year.”