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Sunday, November 1, 2020

60 years of Memories: Dining out in Butler


By James Ring


Dining Out In Butler


Just as now, getting a good meal in Butler wasn’t difficult in the 1960s. I grew up eating in the area’s simple restaurants, when a plate lunch went for 75 cents and the child’s plate was 50 cents. When I began working in town, I saved lunch money by buying 25 cents worth of cheese and a dime box of saltine crackers at the A&P store on the Square, washed down with water. If I was feeling particularly flush, I’d go by Wheeler’s bakery on the east side of the Square and spend a quarter for one of their fat sticky brownies. Eatin’ out was for the weekend. The first time I ever saw a McDonalds (far from Butler), the hamburgers were 19 cents, and the golden arches sign said so-many-millions-served, not yet bragging about billions and billions.


On the Butler Square, the main eatery was the café in the corner of the Inn Hotel, east of the main lobby, where one could look out over the traffic. I seldom had reason to eat there, but I often ate at the Sandwich Shop across from the Post Office, fitted with stools at the long counter. There was usually a line of waiting customers at noon, backed up against the wall while the seated diners gobbled their lunch. And there was another quick-turn place in the alley (a.k.a. Chestnut street)  behind the north side of the Square.


Out on the Highway 71 Strip, there was Glenn Hutton’s restaurant, just now demolished, open 24 hours for the highway trade with a big parking lot out back, with a bridge across Diphtheria Creek, as we called it. Gerald and Alice Roberts had an equally popular café just across the busy highway. Further north, past the drive-in stops at the Dari-King (now the Quik Dine), the Dairy Queen and The Hub, there was Laura Bailey’s restaurant, now part of the Bates County Sheriff’s garage after it was no longer used as Jerry Oakes’ Coca Cola plant.


At the southern approach to town, Lola’s Steak House became a favorite place, and it struggled on after the new four-lane 71 highway was built, until its out-of-the-way location eventually doomed it. To capitalize on the new west 52 interchange, Dr. Bud Welborn built the West Oak Steak House, now the Flaming Lantern, which soon became the main culinary attraction.


At some point, of course, it had to happen—the fast food chains arrived. The Sonic drive-in on north business 71 was first, followed by the Pizza Hut and then Mickey D’s, Taco Bell and the Subway sandwich shop. Fortunately, Clyde Koehn saw fit to open the Koehn Bakery in a former filling station at Bates County’s only stop light, which became known all over the region. The China Buffet took up residence at old 71 and Mill street in another abandoned gas station.


Along the way, we had some good times in other restaurants on the Square, including one in the Seese building at the southeast corner that’s now razed, and the South Side/Union/Jackwagon location. Given the skittishness of diners in these COVID-nerves times, it’s a hard row to hoe in the café business. We braver ones sit apart, slip in and out with masks on, and depend on the staff to take every precaution possible. One thing’s for sure; people still have to eat.