Veteran restaurateurs Bob and Dee Houston are living in Cabo San Lucas, Mexico, but when they
opened their most recent Gardner location, Bob and Dee’s Family Restaurant, in the mid-2000s, this is not where they pictured themselves until after they reached retirement age.
While the Houstons are still a few years away from retirement, they were forced to close their Gardner restaurant, Bob and Dee’s, in August of 2010, citing high taxes as the chief cause of the restaurant’s failure.
When they built the location in 2005, the experienced business owners, who previously owned or partnered in two Gardner restaurants and one in Olathe, believed that the area would support a nicer, family-style eatery. And, according to Dee, locals flocked to the place. While the business flourished, so too did the taxes the couple owed on the property that housed it.
“The taxes started out there pretty reasonable in the beginning,” recalled Dee in a phone interview. “The bank predicted our taxes would be about $20,000 in the beginning, and they were, but they kept going up. They were $53,000 by the end. And, they told us there would be more because of the road assessments (on Moonlight Road) – that they would be in the high ($50 thousands) or maybe even the ($60 thousands in 2011).”
A check with the Johnson County Treasurer’s office showed in 2005, that the tax bill was $12,575. By the time construction was finished and the restaurant opened in 2006 the pairs’ tax bill was $47,574. The next couple of years saw increases, with the restaurant owing $49,692; $53,047 respectively. In 2009, as the economy tanked and property values declined, the restaurant got a break, paying only $50,471. Last year, the floor dropped as the value of the location declined by nearly $60,000, yet the restaurant owed just $5,000 less in taxes than the previous year, paying in $45,171.
As Dee told her story, Bob spoke in the background reminding her of some of the key challenges the couple faced to remain afloat in an already competitive market.
In addition to the steep climb in the amount of taxes the couple owed in more recent years, the tanking economy, the arduous Moonlight Road construction project and the smoking ban the state of Kansas adopted in July 2010 signaled to the couple that things weren’t going to get better any time soon. As much as they hated to do so, after 25 years in the business, they had to consider shutting their doors.
“When they were working on that road it just killed us and the bank wasn’t willing to work with us on those taxes,” Dee remembered. “Long story short, the taxes got so high, (we decided to) negotiate with the bank. We settled up and everything was free and clear. We paid all of our taxes and the bank took over the back taxes.”
According to the Kansas Department of Revenue and Kansas Department of Labor the couple was current on their taxes before moving on from the business in 2010.
“We had a lot of good customers who are probably wondering what happened,” Houston said, remembering the difficult task she faced the last week of operation when she had to tell some of her long-time regulars that the restaurant would be closing. “A lot of people were crying, you know, it was hard to let them know. People really enjoyed the restaurant and they came in (frequently),” Dee said.
Today, she and her husband have settled into a simpler way of life south of the boarder. Bob left the business in November of 2009 to start a new career; he has been working for a long-time friend selling time shares in Mexico.
Dee, who hasn’t yet started working, is taking a breather before she decides what her next career move will be. The couple had traveled to the resort area for 12 years and hoped to one day retire to the beach they had become so familiar with. Now they are making a life far away from the everyday stresses that plague business owners.
“Bob and I are happy now. We worked for 25 years in the restaurant business – and it’s hard work, but we were ready to slow down and enjoy life, where there is no stress and no drama,” Dee said.