Archive for Wednesday, June 20, 2001

Former depot home to new restaurant

Neil Bitler plans return to food service

June 20, 2001

One year after closing his Tonganoxie restaurant, Neil Bitler is right on track.

The railroad track, that is.

Next month, Bitler and his wife, Joyce, plan to open a new restaurant, the Santa Fe Depot Diner, in Leavenworth.

The new restaurant will be housed in Leavenworth's 114-year-old former Santa Fe depot, 781 Shawnee, on the west edge of downtown.

The Bitlers plan to open for lunch and dinner seven days a week.

"We'll probably open at six o'clock in the morning and close at three," Bitler said. "And, we'll serve breakfast all day long."

Bitler said he plans to set up a sandwich menu for lunch, and of course to fire up his smoker-trailer in the back for barbecue and smoked meat. He also said it's likely that his wife will bake pies each day.

And the Bitlers are still working out other plans, he said.

"Later on, I plan on doing a buffet on Sunday afternoons," he said. "It would be all you can eat with ribs and chicken."

The depot, which in 1986 was listed on the National Register of Historic Places, is owned by Charles Jaster, Leavenworth.

The Santa Fe Railway used the depot until 1982, when the building was sold to Jaster. Since then, the tracks have been taken up, with only about 300 feet of railroad track remaining.

In the 1990s, two restaurants have been housed in the building, most recently a Mexican restaurant that closed about two years ago.

Since leasing the building, Bitler has renovated the kitchen, which was a baggage room, and installed period carpet in the dining area.

The building's original architecture includes 28-inch thick sandstone walls, transoms over interior doors and windows, 12-foot ceilings, stained-glass windows, original wainscoting and gingerbread, and a round room where the railroad's ticket taker used to work.

Bitler said he plans to continue running his catering business.

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