Salyers close doors on decades at restaurant

7/13/2013

By ANGIE HAFLICH

By ANGIE HAFLICH

ahaflich@gctelegram.com

It's the end of an era for one of Garden City's longest-standing restaurants. The family-owned Wheat Lands Restaurant and Convention Center, open since 1960, officially closed its doors on Sunday.

That same day, managing partners Van Salyer and Gary Salyer, of Wheat Lands Inc., announced plans to sell the property, deciding it was time to slow down a bit.

In 1955, Van, Gary and Ray Salyer's father, Emil "Sally" Salyer, purchased the Wheat Lands Motor Inn, 1311 E. Fulton St., from Ed Porter, who told Salyer to just pay him when he could.

"So Dad had a lot of great friends, and everyone knew he was honest," Van Salyer said.

During the filming of "In Cold Blood," Truman Capote, author of the book, stayed at the Wheat Lands Inn, as did the actors and actresses who starred in the movie. Van Salyer has a black and white photo of Capote.

"We had this picture hanging up over there at the restaurant for a long time," he said.

Emil Salyer opened the original restaurant in 1960.

"In '60, we had it over there," Salyer said, referring to its original location, adjacent to the motel. "It was somewhat of a coffee shop and then we added a dining room and then we added a dining room," he added, referring to the double dining rooms added at the restaurant.

He has an original menu from that location.

"This is a menu from 1961, '62. The T-bone steak was $3.95; the KC Strip was $5.95; fresh shrimp cocktail, $1.35. Isn't that something?" he said.

Sandwiches and hamburgers cost from 60 to 75 cents.

In 1966, on the same day Lisa Salyer was born to Van and his wife, Anita Salyer, a fire started in the kitchen of the original Wheat Lands Restaurant.

"I remember when the restaurant burnt down. My sister was born. All the firemen showed up, but nobody bothered to bring a fire truck," The Salyers' older daughter, Missy Salyer, said with a laugh. "Grandpa blamed that on my sister because that was the day she was born."

Over the years, Emil Slayer acquired several other businesses, including other hotels, such as the Red Baron, located on Fulton Street and the bypass, and the Grain Bin, originally built as a convention center in 1968.

The Wheat Lands Restaurant and Convention Center was moved to its current location at 1408 E. Fulton St. in 1979.

"One of the fondest memories is having lunch with my wife and two daughters several days a week, and grandchildren and now great-grandchildren," he said.

Missy, who works for Wheat Lands Inc., grew up at the restaurant.

"Missy, she sat in the kitchen and helped Jack, our chef at that time, garnish plates when she was 4 and 5 years old," he said.

Gary Salyer's sons, Jeff and Mark, also grew up there. Missy said it will take some time to adjust.

"It's been a lot of fun over the years," she said. "It will be different, but it's time. Dad and Gary need to retire, so they've slowly been selling it off."

The Salyers sold the Red Baron in 2008 and closed the Grain Bin the same year, later selling it, as well.

Salyer said there were several popular menu items at the Wheat Lands restaurant, not the least of which was their fried chicken.

"I get more comments ever since we closed, 'I loved your fried chicken.' Lots of people are commenting on the chicken cooked up by our ladies," he said, referring to Louisa Dominguez, who was there for 23 years; Emma Oliguin, who was there 17 years; and Francis Minjarez, who was there for 12 years.

"You could always depend on them. Great employees. We had a lot of people who have been with us for years and years and years. It was difficult Sunday when I told them; it was a very sad time for us," he said.

Prior to the packing plants coming into the area, the Salyers were one of the biggest local employers.

Over the years, customers have been as loyal as many of the employees.

"I suppose two-thirds of our customers are regulars," Salyer said. "Kraig Ransonette was there five days a week for lunch. ... Jerry Sullivan opened the restaurant. He had a key to the side door and opened up the restaurant and got coffee early in the morning. He's been a customer for a long, long, long time."

Salyer said Max and Mary Ann Miller's family has had Christmas Eve dinner at Wheat Lands Restaurant every year since the early 1960s.

"There's like 40, 50 of them here every year. They get steak dinners for every one of the family members," he said.

Salyer said he and his coffee drinking friends have been floundering since the restaurant closed.

"There are about 10 or 12 guys that have been meeting at (the restaurant) at 9 a.m. and 3 p.m. for years and years and years, and we're all lost. We don't know where to go," he said, laughing. "Hopefully, we'll go back over here when they get open."

The new owner(s) have yet to be named publicly, but Van Salyer said they are currently in the process of remodeling the restaurant and will be renaming it.

Wheat Lands Inc., owns and will continue to operate Wheat Lands Country Store, 1521 E. Fulton St., and is the Hertz Rent-A-Car licensee for Garden City, Dodge City and Liberal.

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