BUNKER HILL — Nearly 44 years ago, a historic limestone building caught Tom Taggart’s eye. He and his wife, Janet, got “a good deal” on the property, and decided to try operating a cafe.
They’ve been serving up a unique dining experience since. The Bunker Hill Cafe has become well-known throughout the region for its fare, which includes catfish and Kansas beef.
“We were so young when we started. I don’t think 40 years ever entered my mind,” Janet Taggart said. “I just met a guy — and I got a cafe as well.”
“And she’s been working hard ever since,” Tom Taggart said.
The cafe is located in a stone building that is a century old; it was built in 1916. Bunker Hill itself has a population of less than 100 people, but the cafe has drawn loyal customers from several surrounding towns, including Hays, Russell, Osborne, Salina and others.
In more recent years, the internet also has been helpful in generating interest, with many customers pulling off Interstate 70 after finding the restaurant on Yelp or Facebook.
Some customers have been coming faithfully ever since the restaurant opened more than four decades ago, he said.
The cafe has been the site of many wedding proposals throughout the years, and has been a special occasion destination for many anniversary, birthday and holiday celebrations, he said.
“We have a lot of people who come in, maybe they got engaged here,” Tom Taggart said. “And they’re still coming in.”
It’s a popular destination for Valentine’s Day and high school proms, and it’s not unusual for customers to arrive in limousines as part of their celebrations.
Everyone from Kansas politicians to country music stars have dined here, and the cafe has served as a filming location for Smoky Hills Public Television, which is just across the street.
The cozy dining room is decorated with sculptures made by local artists, and wild game preserved by a nearby taxidermist. There are only 10 tables, so guests are encouraged to make reservations, said Joyce Scott, who has been a longtime waitress.
Everything is made to order, so diners should not expect a “fast-food” experience, Scott said.
Popular menu items include catfish, shrimp and salmon, filet mignon and buffalo steaks. Tom Taggart does most of the cooking, which also includes homemade honey raisin bread, two house salad dressings and a variety of homemade jellies. The jellies are made from native local berries, such as elderberry, chokecherry and sand plum. The staff picks the berries by hand, Taggart said.
“It’s fresh food. It’s not prepared food,” Scott said.
“You won’t find a bagged salad in our kitchen,” Tom Taggart said.
“And we’ve got the carpal tunnel to prove it,” Janet added with a chuckle.
Taggart said he always had been interested in fishing and still enjoys cooking. But all three say the customers are what has inspired them to keep the business going all these years.
Some original customers now come to eat with their children and grandchildren, Janet Taggart said.
“I’ve always kept a toy box over there, and it makes me feel pretty old now when their grandkids … grab some toys,” Taggart said. “I think a lot of those toys have been there that long.”
The cafe now is open three evenings a week, as all three admit they are not as young as they once were.
“People don’t understand; it’s a lot of work,” Scott said. “The customers keep saying, ‘Please don’t close.’ They enjoy coming here on special occasions and family get-togethers, birthday parties.”
“And that’s the best part,” Janet Taggart said.
“We’ve made so many friends here.”
To contact Bunker Hill Cafe, call (785) 483-6544.