Courtney's Place in Toronto, KS
Courntey's Places. Is in Toronto Kansas, population- 278. Is an Italian restaurant serving classic dishes and the best pizza I have ever had. Courtney's Story, This tiny restaurant on Toronto's main street draws diners from across this half of Kansas as well as travelers making a detour. In fact, that's how Courtney herself ended up in this small southeast Kansas community. "My brother and sister-in-law had discovered the Toronto area several years before," she explains. "I was traveling on my way to make a new life in Arizona and stopped to see them." Actually, she says, the government led her to a new way of living. "I received a letter from Social Security telling me that when I retired at age 65, I would be making a certain amount of money. It was a decent amount, but not what I wanted to live on, and I realized I needed to make some changes," she says. After spending a lifetime managing restaurants and a convenience store chain along the East Coast - and making money for other people - she decided to change her life. She bought a recreational vehicle and headed for a new start in Arizona. On the way, she stopped to see her family in Toronto. "I really intended to stay only for the summer and go on to Arizona," she says. Then, doing something she'd constantly told other not to do - stand on a plastic milk carton - she fell and shattered a knee. Adding insult to injury, the motor on the RV "blew". "My brother and sister-in-law had returned to their home in Florida by then, and I was literally helpless." Courtney recalls. "I called a church and asked if there was anyone who could help me by going to the grocery store for me. A lady, Frieda Gibson, came to my aid and not only did errands but took me all around town and introduced me to everyone." "It was like going to a family reunion and meeting aunts, uncles and cousins I'd never met," she says. "I love the area and the beauty of it, but really, the people are why I stayed. I was looking to be a hermit but found friends instead." She bought a stone building in Toronto that had been built in 1886, refurbished it herself, and created a loft home upstairs. "The entire building is my home, and I just feel like I'm entertaining friends," she says. Originally, she planned to open five small businesses on the ground level: the Cone Zone (ice cream), Toronto Trinkets (local crafts), Tea for 2 (tea room), The English Muffin (bakery), and Divine Pizza and Pasta House, (so named because of the salvaged church pew and altar utilized in the design). This explains the plural name Courtney's Places, although all are now incorporated in the restaurant. The pasta and pizza business was planned to be a "bring your own bowl" for take-out dining. Customers began asking if they couldn't eat there instead, and the restaurant was formed. "If I'd known it was gonna be a restaurant, I'd built a bigger kitchen," reads Courtney's favorite T-shirt, which always brings a laugh from customers. "I'm constantly astounded at the direction the business is taking," she says. "It's been fun to watch it grow." It took a reality check, a blown RV, and a shattered knee to land her where she's very happy to be. For the town of Toronto, Courtney's Places may just be an additional gift from the universe. - - - - - - - - - - - - - "You never know where life will lead you. From wanting a staff of 1 and no stress, I ended-up with a staff of 8 and lots of ...opportunities. Anyhow, in 2009 I purchased the building next to my restaurant at a tax sale. Cut a hole in the wall and in Nov. 2010, on the Saturday following Thanksgiving, the new dining room opened and we held a wedding for 60. What a way to christen a new space. Some just use champagne." "When I left Florida it was to go to Arizona and build a new life and a strawbale house. I have the life but still wanted to build with strawbales so I built a courtyard wall out back. I say I did this, actually I had fellows do the work. It is still a work in progress, but we are getting there. When I first came up with the plan I was 15 yrs and 30 lbs less and thought I could do anything. How life changes." "Well now my vision is complete. Still need lots of adjustments and tweeking but that will be an ongoing process. The only thing I did not do was restore the old V.W. in the back. I think I will leave that for someone elses vision and put it up for sale."