ABILENE – Construction is half finished on the new Brookville Hotel, but it’s not in Brookville.
A new building for a famed restaurant? In Abilene? And it’ll be called the Brookville Hotel? “Exactly,” said owner Mark Martin. He has rationale. “Well, Kentucky Fried Chicken didn’t change the name when they opened up in Kansas.”
Friday will be the last day for the Brookville Hotel restaurant, recognized nationally for its fried chicken dinners. The business will reopen in the spring in a replica being constructed near Interstate Highway 70 in Abilene. The location changes, but the name and look remain the same. The new building will look like the historic hotel in many ways, Martin said. Builder Rick Nelson, Salina, said “the front is basically the same as the old hotel. It will have two distinctly different buildings with the same half circle up above.” Inside, the dining rooms will be recreated.
“I can walk in the inside, room to room, in the dark and it feels like I’m in the old place,” Nelson said. The new restaurant feels that way only in the dark because the wallboard and colonial-style wallpaper aren’t yet in place. But Martin said even details like the drapes and carpets will be recreated. Many of the fixtures and decorations will be lifted from the original hotel and hung on the new ceiling and walls, Martin said.
“It’s five months to build and seven months to decorate,” Nelson said. “They’ll be able to start frying chickens in May.” The cost of the new restaurant will be from $1.5million to $1.6 million, Martin said. That’s more than Martin expected when he set out to do this a year ago. But the new place will have several features the historic hotel in Brookville lacks, including storage and laundry facilities, and a garage for catering trucks. Plus, there will be a “complete, functioning apartment” for Martin and his wife, Connie, on the second floor.
Camping in Brookville
The Martins have been living upstairs at the original hotel for two months since they sold their Salina home at 122 Overhill. Mark Martin said the current living arrangement is “like camping,” especially on laundry day.
Each dining room at the new restaurant is slightly larger than the original. The restaurant will accommodate 240 people – 40 more than in Brookville. That number would take care of hungry diners from three tour buses, Mark Martin said. Martin said he’s expecting tour bus groups at Abilene, because of the restaurant’s location at the junction of I-70 and Kansas Highway 15.
The highway location dramatically will change the way the Martins do business, because it will mean more drop-in customers. At Brookville, nearly all the restaurant’s guests make reservations, and those who don’t “catch on after a couple of visits,” said manager Mary Laas. Indeed, staffing at Brookville is based on the number of reservations.
At Abilene, Martin said he likely will start keeping staff on duty to handle walk-in customers, and he’ll probably reserve a couple of dining rooms for that purpose. “I know it’s going to be a whole new ballgame,” he said. He anticipates increased business at the new location and plans to hire 60 to 65 employees, up from about 51 at Brookville. A few current employees will stay with the restaurant, but many more plan to quit when the last of the chicken dinners are served at Brookville – some because of the commute to Abilene.
Old hotel up for sale
Martin said he’s in no hurry to sell the historic hotel at Brookville. Once the community puts a sewer system in place in 2001, he expects the value of the property should rise. “I’ve had a couple of inquiries, but no one has come to look the place over to see if they want it,” Martin said. He said it’s not true that Salina businessman Charlie Walker is buying the property, a peristent rumor that he’s heard “for months.”
The building would be perfect for a chicken restaurant, as it is now used, he said. Or, if a new owner didn’t want to bring in too much cooking equipment, it could serve as a place for light meals. Or, Martin said, it could be used as a hunting lodge.
Sunday, December 26, 1999
By: Amy Sullivan