Kendall’s Restaurant serves up Oklahoma favorites and celebrates family traditions in Noble, Okla.
Three chicken-fried steaks and two cinnamon rolls are part of Kendall’s challenge. Photos by Hayley Leatherwood
For almost 30 years, Oklahomans have been flocking to Kendall’s Restaurant, a Southern-style eatery with flavors that are both unique and familiar. These flavors, accompanied by a gallery of music memorabilia and the feeling of being home, have made Kendall’s a popular Oklahoma destination.
Kendall’s had a humble, yet ambitious, start. In 1986, Brenda Mantooth opened Kendall’s in Purcell, Okla., with family in mind. Named after her newborn granddaughter, the small restaurant featured dishes close to Oklahoma’s heart.
Chicken-fried steak, catfish and cinnamon rolls are a few of the many dishes Mantooth knew well and served often. Only three years after it opened, Kendall’s moved to its current location in Noble, Okla. In 1990, Kim Lock, Mantooth’s daughter, and her family bought the restaurant with a mission to keep the same recipes and maintain the small town atmosphere. Three decades have passed, and Kendall’s is still serving up Oklahoma favorites like grandma used to make.
“My mom was a big believer that food was love,” Lock says.
Mantooth was passionate about cooking, and she enjoyed the moments when people would gather to eat. Lock uses this passion as a goal for Kendall’s; the restaurant will always be place for friends and family to be together. At Kendall’s, classic recipes made from scratch dominate the menu.
“It’s old fashioned, and it’s not for everybody, but the food is good … it’s real food,” Lock says.
Cooking it up like her mother and grandmother, Lock owes the restaurant’s success to tradition. Kendall’s iconic cinnamon rolls are one example. Though the restaurant now prepares hundreds of cinnamon rolls each day, Lock’s mother began by making only a couple dozen. It was Lock’s daughter who, as a child, started giving away cinnamon rolls to tables. Now, guests receive a free cinnamon roll to finish off their meals, and it’s the same recipe they’ve enjoyed since 1986.
While most people who visit Kendall’s leave satisfied and overstuffed, some patrons can’t get enough. Lock and her business partner, Dee Downer, have challenged the strong-willed to finish what are practically three chicken-fried steak meals. Hundreds have tried, but only 18 have walked away as champions. Three steaks, three side dishes, a salad and cinnamon rolls make this challenge Oklahoma’s finest, according to TripAdvisor. The well-known travel company also put this “Chicken Fry Challenge” in the country’s top 10 food challenges.
While generous portions of homemade favorites may be Kendall’s biggest draw, the restaurant has more to offer than a full stomach. Oklahoma historians and music buffs alike can feast their eyes on the impressive collection of posters, photographs and other signed memorabilia that fills the restaurant’s walls. Featuring items attached exclusively to Oklahoma, the collection can be compared to a pop culture museum, Downer says. Keep an eye out for new items; Kendall’s is often receiving pieces to display.
More characteristic of the restaurant than any tangible items are the relationships Downer and Lock have built over the years with their customers, their staff and their community. They have served many generations of Oklahomans in their 30 years of business. They’ve had the opportunity to watch families grow and merge, showing support that is reciprocated by the community.
“Our customers watched Dee get married. They watched me have children and my mom pass away. They watch our lives, and we watch theirs,” Lock says. “Our best memory here is being a part of people’s lives.”
The staff at Kendall’s seems to feel the same. One server, Shelley Crumpton, started at the restaurant two years ago. She calls the servers “Kendall’s kids.” Many were kids who came into the restaurant to eat with their families. After getting to know the owners and staff, they couldn’t wait until their 16th birthdays, when they could join the team, and often, they stay through college graduation.
“Sometimes we feel like we’re raising the next generation of employees,” Lock jokes. “We really feel like a family.” Whether intentional or organic, Kendall’s has always been a gathering place for families of all kinds. Opened with family in mind, Lock and Downer have extended Mantooth’s love and care to their community.
Lock and Downer may not describe Kendall’s as an easy adventure, but they agree the journey has been rewarding. “I wish my mom were here to see the success because she would love it,” Lock says. “My hope is I’m making her really proud.”