When she decided she had to close her quaint Italian restaurant, which has become well-known across the state despite its location in tiny Toronto, Kansas, population 265, Courtney Neill was sure about her decision.
She'd endured several surgeries over the past few years, and just after Christmas, she'd had a second knee surgery. Walking was still difficult.
Her restaurant, Courtney's Place at 120 W. Main St., had a good run, and she was ready for the next phase of her life. The last day in business for the restaurant, she decided, would be April 8.
"I guess I'm just kind of tired of cooking," Neill said. "I wanted to just take time to get better, to heal and to get the excitement back in my life."
So she posted the news on Facebook, and the Internet exploded. The post was shared more than 200 times, and Neill started hearing from people all over the state who said they were in mourning. They wished her well, but they wished she wasn't closing. Within a day, every reservation she had left before closing day was booked.
Neill was overwhelmed, so much so that now she's not so sure about her decision. She's still going to close the restaurant at the end of business on Sunday, but maybe — just maybe — she'd consider reopening when she gets better, she said this week.
"No way did I ever anticipate the reaction I've gotten," Neill said. "I knew a few people would want come in to dinner and that a few people would say something, but never in my wildest imagination did I think I’d get the response I've had. It made me rethink what I want to do."
Neill first opened her business in 2004 in an old, two-story building on Toronto's main drag that had originally been built in 1886 and operated as a hardware store. She started out running five businesses out of the building — a gift shop, an ice cream parlor, a bakery, a tea room and a pizza place.
But her customers told her they'd prefer a nice, sit-down restaurant. In 2010, Neill — with the help of her son Christopher Slyter — expanded into a neighboring building and opened an Italian restaurant with white tablecloths, candlelight, fancy dinnerware, a fireplace and live piano music. Over the past eight years, people have traveled from all over the state to dine at the restaurant, which many insisted felt like it was in Europe.
She served chicken Parmigiano, manicotti and lasagna and allowed customers to bring their own wine if they paid a corking fee. She would book her tables only once a night.
For the past few years, Neill has opened the restaurant on Fridays, Saturdays and Sundays only. Sunday is the day for her Italian buffet and the only day she doesn’t accept reservations. (Diners who wants to get a last taste of Courtney's Place can try their luck getting in from 11:30 a.m. to 1:30 p.m. on Sunday.)
The restaurant, which has an upstairs loft where Neill lived before all of her knee troubles started, is for sale. It technically has been for years, she said.
But if no one buys it, she'll have to examine her options, she said.
"You never know what's going to happen," she said. "We may be out of it for three or four months and say, 'That's it.' Or we may put out a news bulletin and say, 'Come back to Courtney's Place.'"
Though she's been confined to her house as her knee heals, Neill said there's no way she's missing closing day. Her son will handle the cooking, but she has to be there to thank her customers one last time, she said.
"Even if I'm just sitting in a chair saying goodbye to people, these are people who are driving from two hours away for something I made, and they want to come say goodbye. I cannot imagine not being around."
Toronto is about 85 miles straight east of Wichita.