Diners are often the glue that holds a community together — the smaller the community, the more important the glue. It’s a place for local and area residents to come in and drink a cup of coffee and discuss local and world happenings.
When Mary Britton heard last year that the Chuckwagon Café in downtown Florence was closing, she decided it was her time to own and operate a café.
No stranger to the restaurant business, Britton owned Gerald’s Country Kitchen in the 1980s in Peabody. For the past 15 years, she had worked at AGCO in Hesston and decided it was time to do something different.
“I had been toying with the idea for a couple of years,” she said Friday. And when the former Chuckwagon closed in December, Britton bought it, gave it a facelift, and reopened it in a matter of a few weeks with the new name.
“These people (employees) didn’t have anywhere else to work so I wanted to get it open as soon as I could for them,” Britton said, referring to the fact that the diner provides employment to 10 people. “Many of the Florence residents don’t drive, so they have to work and eat in Florence.”
Since Jan. 4, she has been dishing up home-cooked meals. Even though fried foods are part of the fare, Britton also offers healthy options on the menu.
No prepackaged, frozen foods here. Biscuits, bread, cookies, pies, and pudding are made from scratch. She breads her own chicken fried steaks, pork tenderloins, and chicken strips. The mashed potatoes and French fries are made from real potatoes in-house.
Recipes are from her family and her husband’s mother.
“I want my food to be as fresh as possible,” Britton said.
Two of her customers’ favorites are her biscuits and gravy because the biscuits and gravy are made from scratch.
The hours are long — 5:30 a.m. to 7 p.m. Monday through Saturday and 5:30 a.m. to 2 p.m. Sunday — and are set to go longer, with closing to be at 8 p.m. weeknights beginning April 25 to accommodate farmers.
“The Florence people have been supportive as well as customers from Chase County and Marion,” Britton said.
She even has a customer from Hutchinson who comes to eat at her diner once a week.
“There are a lot of restaurants in Hutchinson and between Hutchinson and Florence,” Britton said with a smile. “But he chooses to eat here. It makes me feel good.”
This spring, Britton plans to expand the small dining room and kitchen to accommodate more diners.
“We do so much baking and there’s no room in the kitchen,” Britton said.
A grand opening is planned 9 a.m. to 2 p.m. April 16 with free coffee and tea.