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Auction eatery thrives

HUTCHINSON, Kan. (AP)--It's just a little country sort of place where the smell of live cattle is prominent, a dog named Copper might greet you at the door and walking in with dirty boots isn't necessarily frowned upon.

There's nothing fancy about this little South Hutchinson diner located in the same building where cattle grace the sale ring every Tuesday. The decor is simple. The walls mostly bare. Locals, however, find the atmosphere welcoming, coming in and bantering with others as a small staff serves them up with breakfast or lunch, as well as plenty of coffee.

For years, it was only Tuesday sale days that brought customers into the Stockyard Cafe. The kitchen staff would open early and stay late to accommodate ranchers, cattle buyers and others who had made the trip to the Hutchinson Commission Co. for the weekly auction.

But, this morning is not Tuesday. It's Wednesday and a dozen or so locals are finishing breakfast and sipping coffee while enjoying the conversation.

Sale barn owner Jason Cuiksa said he is hoping the uniqueness, the down-home feeling of a sale barn and the agriculture atmosphere will have more customers coming in the doors. And, while many a restaurant across Kansas promotes close ties to the state's economic staple of cattle--from Hutchinson's Airport Steakhouse to Casey's Cowtown Club--there couldn't be anything tied more closely to the industry than a sale barn cafe.

Residents can now order up everything from a choice of nine types of hamburgers and chicken-fried steak sandwiches to biscuits and gravy and ham Monday through Saturday, said Cuiksa.

Yes, there's even pork and chicken on the menu, he said.

Cuiksa turned the former weekly restaurant into a full-time establishment about three months ago. Advertising only through word of mouth and fliers, whether his full-time restaurant venture could profit seemed like and uphill battle at first.

"It cost more money to keep it open,'' he said. "But man, it turned right around. People spread the word--we have good food--and loyal customers started piling in.''

Cuiksa purchased the Hutchinson Commission Co. a year ago, a dream of having his own business that some said 10 years earlier could never happen. Electrocuted in 1999, Cuiksa died three times that day. His arm was amputated a few inches below his elbow. Doctors told him as he began to heal that he might never live a normal life.

He's proved them all wrong, he has said. Cuiksa, however, doesn't focus on the past, but on his dreams of building his livestock company. Already he has added special sales that coincide with the weekly Tuesday staples. Expanding the hours at the sale barn's cafe is the latest venture.

The endeavor already has proved popular.

On that recent Wednesday morning, "they were lined up at 6 o'clock, 15 people wanting to get through the doorway,'' Cuiksa said.

South Hutchinson resident Robert Starks, whom he worked for the railroad for more than 30 years, said he has been eating breakfast and lunch at the cafe twice a day, meeting up with friend, Jerry Milburn, of Hutchinson.

"It's a nice, clean restaurant,'' Starks said. "The waitresses are friendly and the food is good.''

There isn't much more one can ask for, the two conversed, with Starks mentioning he had pancakes, eggs, sausage and hash browns for breakfast and planned to be back in a few hours for lunch.

Pretty Prairie rancher Marion Krehbiel said he comes, on occasion, to the Tuesday sales to check out prices or buy or sell cattle. Since the restaurant opened full time, he's been coming most Wednesday mornings for breakfast and conversation.

"I read (in a trade publication) that restaurants in stockyards have some of the best food in the country,'' he said.

The Stockyard Cafe, he added, was no different.

"I find good people to visit here, and there's good food,'' he said.

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