Besides having a great Italian restaurant,
Toronto, KS is also known for the State Park, Lake & Dam site ...Thus, the shirt !
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
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:
1. The Cone Zone (ice cream),
2. Toronto Trinkets (local crafts),
3. Tea for 2 (tea room),
4. The English Muffin (bakery), and
5. 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. You might notice that she is even wearing this very shirt in the picture at the top of this page.
"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, Courtney ended-up with a staff of 8 and lots of ...opportunities. In 2009 she purchased the building next to the 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 they held a wedding for 60. What a way to christen a new space. Some just use champagne.
Courtney concludes, "When I left Florida it was to go to Arizona and build a new life and a straw-bale house.
I have the life, but still wanted to build with straw bales so I built a courtyard wall outback.
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 20 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 tweaking 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 else's vision and put it up for sale."
(and Dam Site)
Part of the following was an article excerpt taken from
Southeast Kansas Living, Volume #5, Summer 2007
Pasta House & Pizza
(Dine in or to-go)