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Son steps up to save Hiawatha restaurant's future

A longtime local family-owned restaurant is entering its next chapter with some new changes and old favorites.

Posted: Oct 17, 2021 11:10 PM
Updated: Oct 18, 2021 11:23 AM

(HIAWATHA, Kan.) A longtime local family-owned restaurant is entering its next chapter with some new changes and old favorites.

The Country Cabin has been a staple in Hiawatha for a quarter of a decade but the death of its owner, Steve Roberts, in December put the restaurant’s future at risk.

“A lot of people in the community were shocked about it. People were taken aback,” said Phil Roberts, Steve’s son. “People definitely had the question of who was going to take over the restaurant. If it was going to stay.”

Longtime Country Cabin customer Rosella Madere said losing someone as involved in the community as Steve Roberts was heartbreaking but it made it even more difficult to know it could change the fabric of the community.

“It was a very sad time for our community because we didn’t know what was going to happen with the restaurant and it’s one of our gems,” Madere said.

At the time of his father’s death, Phil Roberts and his wife had spent more than a decade living in California. Phil Roberts said the couple had been waiting for the right time to move back and his father’s death felt like that moment.

“We said, ‘Hey, it’s time. It’s time to go home. It’s time to be next to family.’” Phil Roberts said. “My wife and I decided to come back and we decided to come back to give back and that was one of the things that we were really really adamant about.”

Phil Roberts said giving back started with taking over the restaurant as well as the six cabins on the property available for visitors to rent. He said his goal is to continue his father’s life work of providing great food with great views but find ways to attract new customers.

“We are part of the booster club. We’ve reached out to sports teams in the surrounding communities and offered them a place to hold leadership get-togethers, whatever it is they need,” Phil Roberts said.

He and his head chef are experimenting with new, simple menu items and the cabins were outfitted with wifi or old-school family games.

“That’s our main goal is to where the people are like the food was amazing. The service was amazing. We had fun,” Phil Roberts said. “And we are doing our best. We know what it means to the community and we take our service and our food seriously.”

According to customers, the new owners have not missed a beat.

“People keep coming back and telling friend after friend, ‘hey you’ve got to try it,” Madere said. “My husband works in Topeka and my husband’s had people say, ‘I’ve heard of that place. We should come up and visit you sometime.’”

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It was a pleasant start to the weekend with sunny skies and temperatures reaching the mid 60s. A cold front moving through the area will bring us down into the 30s for lows overnight with gusty winds up to 20 mph. This will keep our highs in the 50s on Sunday under mostly sunny skies with mild winds from the southwest. Temperatures will quickly start to warm up again on Monday with highs in the mid 60s. Rain chances look to stay minimal into next week. Temperatures are forecasted to stay above average for the first day of December on Wednesday.
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