Carrie Rengers

Wichita area to be down one well-known venue by the end of this year

Restaurants Wichita lost in 2018

Beloved Wichita restaurants that closed their doors in 2018.
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Beloved Wichita restaurants that closed their doors in 2018.

With great disappointment, JW and Greg Johnson are putting their Prairie Rose Chuckwagon Supper on the market and plan to close the 21-year-old business by the end of the year.

“We’re very, very sad,” JW Johnson says. “It’s just a tough, tough decision, but it’s the right thing to do.”

The two purchased the Benton business out of founder Thomas Etheredge’s bankruptcy in 2007.

JW Johnson says her husband’s job selling cancer insurance supported Prairie Rose during the venue’s lean times, but Greg Johnson’s own health struggles are now forcing a sale.

“It just seems like it’s getting to be too much,” Johnson says. “It’s been a little bit of a financial struggle. It’s kind of like a roller coaster as far as high times and low times.”

In the next couple of weeks, the Johnsons are listing the “77 acres of Kansas prairie,” as they call it, with John Rupp of ReeceNichols South Central Kansas.

JW Johnson won’t say what the asking price will be, but she says she and her husband paid $1 million for the property at auction.

“We’ve just got to put it out there and see what happens,” Johnson says.

“It’s a beautiful property. It’s got a lot (more) to offer than just chuckwagon suppers.”

There’s an RV park on the property, and Johnson says there are several outdoor areas that are great for events.

She says that while “it would be a wonderful thing” if the Prairie Rose could continue as it is, she doesn’t know if that’s possible.

“The cowboy way is kind of dying off.”

She says audience members are older.

“They’re the ones that have always kind of supported the Prairie Rose. They’re kind of like me. I played cowboys and Indians growing up.”

Johnson says she and her husband would like to remain involved at the property in some capacity, but even more she says she hopes the Prairie Rose can remain a faith-based and family-oriented operation.

She says the property would be great for a church.

“It would make an excellent camp or retreat.”

The Prairie Rose closed briefly in 2007 after Etheredge went bankrupt through his failed Wild West World theme park and ended up in jail due to securities fraud.

When the Johnsons reopened the Prairie Rose, they started with a Christmas show, and JW Johnson says that’s how they’re ending as well.

“We’ve got a great Christmas season ahead of us,” she says.

“Our very last show will be on New Year’s Eve.”

That’s the venue’s traditional dinner and dance.

On Nov. 16, the Johnsons are hosting “A Night for Remembering,” which musician Orin Friesen will narrate.

“It’s going to be kind of (a) musical journey through the history of the Prairie Rose, all 21 years,” JW Johnson says.

“We’ve got a lot of wonderful things planned for the final season,” she says.

“It is such a special place.”