YUKON — When Hensley's Top Shelf Grill opened in May of 2011 with a menu ranging from burgers to hand-cut steaks and premium seafood, probably few people outside of Canadian County recognized the significance beyond a really cool new restaurant opening.
Hensley's opening a little over a year ago in Yukon, signaled a leap from typical roadside diner fare to fine dining in a casual setting so folks in rural Canadian County don't have to drive into Oklahoma City for a nice family meal or intimate dinner for two.
Hensley's has seen steady growth since opening, and is developing a reputation for fine dining at affordable prices and a wine list that's second to none.
Across Canadian County
Plans for the restaurant stretch way back for owners John and Sadhna Kelly.
John's grandfather, Hutson Hensley, owned a service station called Consumer's in El Reno. In 1939, he added 10 stools and a grill to give it a diner. The menu included burgers and homemade pie for dime each.
Shortly after Hutson Hensley died in 1955, a larger restaurant was built and overseen by his wife Marian, son Marion, two daughters Dorothy and Linda, and friends Homer Faler and Jim Barker. It was then the diner started to be known as Hensley's.
In 1975, Linda and Don Kelly returned to El Reno to operate the business, and added the Best Western in 1977. In 1992, Hensley's was acquired by John Kelly and his wife Sadhna, who eventually sold the restaurant space, but kept the name, to concentrate on hotel expansion. The Kellys then opened their Yukon Best Western in 2000.
The Kellys eventually wanted to return the Hensley's name to Oklahoma's restaurant world but were in no hurry. Partnering with restaurant operations veteran Steve Stavinoha and Scott Williford, the idea was to serve food aimed at evolving palates while maintaining small-town hospitality and value.
Finding the right chef
Chef David W. Sullivan went straight from high school to some of the city's best kitchens: Terra Luna, Michael's Grill, Deep Fork Grill and Oak Tree Country Club.
Sullivan's last stop before Hensley's was at Oak Tree, where he settled in and bided his time. Like any chef, Sullivan always dreamed of having his own place — conceiving and executing a menu from his heart and architecting kitchen operations from scratch.
“I had a lot of people through the years they wanted to build a restaurant around my food,” Sullivan said. “After a while, you stop taking people too seriously, but you don't give up the dream.”
Stavinoha was one of those people Sullivan had listened to and dismissed.