Danedri Thompson
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The more some things change, the more they stay the same – at least in downtown Gardner recently. Several restaurants in Gardner are under new management as old favorites have changed hands.
However, the new management teams at a few of Gardner’s restaurants are old hands in the restaurant business – and old hands specifically at the restaurant business in Gardner.
A simple name change gave residents the first indication that the local restaurant scene was, at the very least, re-arranging. In late December, passersby and diners may have noticed the sign above a bar and grill near Price Chopper announcing a name change.
That’s when Wally’s Bar and Grill became Rooster’s Bar and Grill, 808 East Main St.
Though under new management, Rooster’s Bar and Grill remains largely the same with a similar menu and décor as Wally’s before it.
Meanwhile, Wally and Dawn Borth, former partners and owners at Wally’s Bar and Grill,  are now the proud proprietors of Blazers Restaurant, 131 North Center St.
“It’s Blazer Nation, baby,” Wally said.
Dean and Janet Shaw opened the Blazer Burger Restaurant in the 1970s. They adorned the walls with news clippings and memorabilia from Gardner Edgerton High School. The restaurant was briefly managed by a family in Baldwin. Gone were the posters and spirit wear so familiar to legions of Gardner diners.
But Wally said he’s been adding Blazer flair back to the restaurant since he took it over in early December.
“I took the logos from all the schools and I made table tops,” Wally said.  “One of the things I’ve really been impressed with – we’ve had a lot of people bringing in some of their old memorabilia.”
It’s come in handy as Wally and Dawn look for ways to make Blazers Restaurant a staple of the community once again. It’s where they found what will be their new slogan.
Wally found an old advertisement for the restaurant in a GEHS 1978 yearbook.
“It just says, ‘Blazers Restaurant: a good place to eat,’” Wally explained. “We’re going back to that.”
He’ll also incorporate a few of his favorite things from Wally’s Bar and Grill. That restaurant hosted GEHS football film watch parties each week during football season, and it’s one tradition Wally plans to continue at his new establishment.
The décor and slogans aren’t the only area where Wally is trying to make all that’s old new again. The menu includes all of the old favorites like Blazer Burgers and fries, but Wally has added a few new touches as well including barbecue and 3.2 beer.
But, Wally said, the restaurant isn’t, nor is it intended to be a sit-down liquor establishment.
“This is a family establishment first,” he said.
The Borth family isn’t the only familiar restaurant family reinventing itself in Gardner. Next week, the Houstons, who owned Bob and Dee’s Restaurant at the corner of Moonlight Road and Main Street, will open a new diner.
It’s a building the family owned once before. Back in 2000, Bob and Dee Houston owned Mom’s Family Diner at 418 East Main St. They sold the building when they built Bob and Dee’s Restaurant in 2005.
However, they’re leasing the former Mom’s Family Diner space to create a new restaurant, Todd’s Diner.
Dee said the new restaurant, to be managed by their son Todd, should be open next week. The Houstons are shooting for a March 5 opening, but that’s all dependent on the speed of renovations.
With more than 25 years in the restaurant business – most of them in Gardner, the Houstons are ready to greet their old customers again in a very familiar space.
Amy Houston, Bob and Dee’s daughter, said the new menu will be a pared down version of Bob and Dee’s Restaurant.
“Our old menu was diner-ish,” Amy said. The new restaurant will be, too.
Some of the old favorites will return as menu items and as specials – things like meatloaf, chicken fried steak, chicken and dumplings and liver and onions.
They’ll serve breakfast, dinner and lunch, and of course, breakfast will be available all day.
“We’ll have a lot of things we used to do that people can’t get everywhere,” Dee said.
Bob and Dee first started in the restaurant business as the owners of the Downtowner Café. When they sold that restaurant, which continues to serve diner-style food today, they opened Mom’s Kitchen in Olathe. Eventually, they purchased what used to be the Trails Café and turned it into Mom’s Family Restaurant.
Although it will be the first time Todd’s name is on the building, the new restaurant won’t be Todd’s first management experience.
While the family owned two restaurants at once, Todd ran the Gardner restaurant where he’ll now have his name on the sign.
He’s hired some of their favorite and familiar wait and kitchen staff to help open the doors to the new restaurant.
“We got them hired right away,” Dee said.
The Houstons are anxious to open the doors to see many of their previous customers, who Dee says, have continued to slip in the building during renovations.
Between the staff, the Houston family and their loyal customers, Dee said the new venture feels like a homecoming, which it is in more ways than one.
When Bob and Dee’s Restaurant closed a few years ago, Bob and Dee moved to Cabo San Lucas, Mexico, where Bob continues to sell condos. But Gardner is home to the Houston family where Bob grew up and where the couple raised Todd and Amy.
“When I left Bob and Dee’s, it was so nice,” Dee said. “There were a few people crying. Some of the older people, Bob and Dee’s was their outlet. We had a lot of faithful customers.”