Dining With Denise Neil

Beloved small-town Italian restaurant reopens after customers persuade owner to return

Courtney’s Place is back in business in Toronto, Kansas.
Courtney’s Place is back in business in Toronto, Kansas. File photo

Back in April, Courtney Neill decided she was done with her small-town Italian restaurant — the popular Courtney’s Place in Toronto, Kansas — a town with a population of 265 that sits 85 miles straight east of Wichita.

She loved her customers, she said, but she was tired of cooking, and her recent knee surgery had made it impossible for her to keep the restaurant running. She announced that she’d close on April 8, and when she did, the Internet exploded. Every spot she had left before closing day was immediately booked, and her customers expressed their dismay.

That stuck with Neill, who, four months later, has reopened the restaurant. Her knees are better, she said, but the biggest factor in changing her mind was the reaction she got when she closed.

“I just never knew the response was going to be so intense when I closed and that there was going to be such a request for me to open back up again,” said Neill, who first opened the business at 120 W. Main St. in 2004.

Courtney’s Place reopened last week, and it was packed, Neill said.

She’s made a couple of changes since reopening. The menu is the same with the exception of a few new appetizer offerings and some mini-desserts. But Neill has added one day to the schedule. The new hours are 5 to 8 p.m. Thursdays through Sundays. Previously, the restaurant was open just Fridays through Sundays.

“It seemed there were a lot of people who wanted us to open on a weeknight,” Neill said.

Also, Neill has opened up only her front dining room, which seats 28. Her other dining room needs some work, and once she gets all her “projects” done, she hopes to reopen it as well.

But the smaller capacity means that reservations are more important than before, Neill said. Customers are urged to call and reserve a spot before driving all the way to Toronto.

Courtney’s Place operates out of a two-story building on Toronto’s main drag that was originally built in 1886 and operated as a hardware store. Neill 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. People traveled from all over the state to dine at the restaurant.

Her menu includes chicken Parmigiano, manicotti and lasagna, and Neill invites customers to bring their own wine if they pay a small corking fee.

Neill said she’s thrilled to see her customers again.

“It’s amazing,” she said. “I keep saying I’m amazed and I’m blessed because those are the only words I know.”

For a reservation, call Courtney’s Place at 620-637-0175.

One of Wichita's favorite Italian restaurants is back, and people are willing to wait as long as it takes to taste its food again. Video by Denise Neil / March 24, 2016

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