Hutchinson Brookville Hotel owner Mark Martin says the chicken business is thriving in this former cow town.
Next month will mark one year since the hotel and its famous family-style chicken dinner moved 40 miles east to Abilene from tiny Brookville. The Martin family had been serving family-style chicken dinners at the Brookville Hotel since 1915, building a reputation as perhaps the most famous restaurant in the state.
"It was an absolutely excellent move for us," said Martin, who has operated the restaurant with his wife, Connie, since 1982. "Overall, the first year, there haven't been a lot of detractions. And with Abilene being 7,000 people out my front door, they like us and we like them."
Martin is approaching his goal of serving 150,000 customers per year in Abilene, compared with the 100,000 who visited annually in Brookville. He also has doubled the number of employees to about 80.
The five large skillets working together in the kitchen can churn out 100 chickens every hour. The restaurant fries up to 75,000 chickens a year.
The reason for the move was the stench of sewage in a town that has no sewer system. Everyone in Brookville uses septic tanks. For the restaurant, whose sewage was the source of the odor, it was enough of a problem to uproot years of tradition.
Business increased during the first nine months after the restaurant reopened on May 4, 2000, Martin said. The restaurant's trade area doubled to about 180,000 people living in Manhattan, Junction City, Topeka and Clay Center, just a few of the close cities.
"Our summer was awesome," he said. "We've had a lot of people come in wondering if it's still the same as it was."
The restaurant continues to have just one menu choice: the chicken dinner with mashed potatoes and gravy, cream-style corn and biscuits. Martin's grandmother, Helen Martin, began serving the meal in 1915.
The restaurant increased in size from 6,000 to 16,000 square feet, but most of that space isn't in the dining areas. Some of it is used for storage, and the kitchen is four times larger than the one in Brookville.
Martin re-created the original facade of the Brookville Hotel and many of the original tables, chairs and light fixtures were brought from the old location.