QUINCY — A landmark downtown building for sale and a heart looking for healing came together Friday.
Quincy native Ryan Jude Tanner and his husband, Jay Krottinger, closed their purchase of the Hotel Elkton, once again connecting Tanner with the Patio restaurant, a business for which Tanner has great fondness. As a child, he spent a great deal of time at the Patio, where his great-grandmother, Velma, was a longtime employee.
Tanner's great-grandmother moved from Tennessee and worked at the restaurant into her 80s. She used money earned at the restaurant to buy Tanner's mother, who had Tanner when she was 15, a trailer on the south end of town. She later bought them another home on Willow Drive, near 24th and Spring.
"The Patio was so important to my family because the folks that my great-grandmother took care of, those tips are what provided for my family, particularly because of my mom being a single parent and so young," Tanner said.
For previous owner Mark Neiswender, the decision to sell to Tanner was an easy one.
"I remember he used to sit in the kitchen and eat ice cream," Neiswender said.
Buying the Elkton wasn't really a thought at first for Tanner. He happened to be in town in December and wanted to eat at the restaurant for one last time before the Patio closed.
"I was home, coming back to Quincy for vespers at QHS, and I had heard that the restaurant was closing," Tanner said. "But I didn't expect to get Mark on the phone. The crazy thing is that I could remember the phone number, 25, 35 years later. And when he answered, I immediately recognized his voice."
Tanner wasn't sure Neisswender would remember him, though.
"He said, 'I remember you. You were in here all the time,' " Tanner said.
Neiswender told Tanner he loved his great-grandmother.
"I nicknamed Velma 'Tennessee' because she was from Jackson, Tenn.," Nieswender said. "She was also one of our most requested waitresses ever, and she was the boss lady."
Tanner said he asked Neiswender if he could see the apartments while in town because he had never been in them. So Neiswender and Stephen Gramke, managing broker at Happel Inc., met him at the Elkton and did a walkthrough of the hotel and the restaurant.
"I could remember so many great memories there," Tanner said.
In addition, Tanner's great-grandfather, Walter, owned Tanner Music Co., a music store in downtown Quincy.
"I always thought it would be really fun and great to be back in downtown Quincy," Tanner said. "So all of a sudden all these little pieces were coming together, and I thought, 'This is something I can manage.' "
Tanner said two people in particular in Quincy had shown him great generosity. The first, Mildred Gates, gave Tanner odd jobs to do when the 1997 QHS graduate was home from Illinois College. That work helped him close the gap between student loans and the cost of his education.
The second is Kathi Dooley, who took Tanner under her wing while he was in high school. Tanner helped endow a scholarship at QHS in her name last year.
"She was so incredibly generous to me," Tanner said.
But many of Tanner's memories of and connections to Quincy have not been happy. After moving to Tulsa, Okla., in 2004, he spent a long time away without returning. When Tanner was 12, his father died. On his birthday in 2006, Tanner's mother was beat up in a downtown bar and subsequently died.
"I just could never feel safe or good about Quincy," he said. "It was too much pain."
An episode of the Netflix series "Queer Eye" featured fellow Quincy native Jonathan Van Ness' return to Quincy High School to give Dooley a makeover. Tanner said Van Ness' work in the episode on healing and forgiveness revealed to Tanner that his own journey to move forward with his life was stuck at a roadblock.
"So when this opportunity came back, I realized coming back would sort of be like putting a period on that part of my life and doing something good for Quincy," Tanner said. "That really was the catalyst driving to get this deal done. And I am really, really grateful that I get to do this. I hope we have a positive impact in the community and get to do good things."
Tanner said he and Krottinger hope to eventually take up residence in Quincy, though work often has them on the road. Their production company, Tanninger Entertainment, produces Broadway shows and won Tony Awards in 2013 for a revival of "Pippin" and in 2019 for a revival of "Oklahoma!." They also have touring productions of popular shows "Come From Away" and "Waitress."
They do plan to do some renovation to the Elkton, which Tanner described as "solid as a rock."
"It needs some love and care," he said. "A couple things that we want to stress is that we are not asking anybody to move out, and we're not making any sweeping changes. We do want to renovate, but we aren't exactly sure how to do that without disrupting everybody that's there."
The process has no timeline yet.
"We're already working with such a beautiful architectural space," Tanner said. "It's all there. It just needs a little attention."
The Elkton Hotel was built in 1924 as a collaborative project by local architects Martin Geise and Harvey Chatten as the new home for the Elks Club. In 1949, the upper floors were converted into a hotel, and the structure was rebranded as the Hotel Elkton. The Elkton is now home to 54 apartments. Before the popular Patio restaurant opened in the mid-1950s, the space served as a private night club called the Terrace Room.
Reopening the Patio -- with the same name -- also is a priority.
"We hope to open in the fall, but the coronavirus has me mindful it might really have an impact on our timing," Tanner said.
Renovating the restaurant will involve a complete tear-out, but they want to keep the same relaxed feel while also updating the interior to be "sexy and smart."
They have recipes from the Patio in hand and are working with a chef in Tulsa to update some of the items and get the restaurant back up and running. Focus groups also will help them in the process.
"A lot of the recipes are really fabulous and wonderful and cherished and delicious and will stay," Tanner said.
He also hopes to reach out to staff members who were left without jobs after the Patio closed to bring many of them back.
"We hope to build upon the greatness of the Patio that was so cherished and so loved," Tanner said.
Neiswender and his wife, Kim, are excited for what the future holds.
"In Ryan and Jay, I see two young, sharp eager individuals that have the commitment to keep our heritage going and adding their own stamp to the Patio," he said. "It has been a pleasure to work with them, and we look forward to many more dinners at the Patio."
Tanner called the journey "incredibly awesome."
"In the process, I have found a lot of forgiveness, a lot of grace and a great amount of humility," he said. "The gravity of this moment is not lost on us."