In the late 1930s, Hensley’s began as a gas station/grill. Although location, owners and names changed (it was once called Consumers but changed back to Hensley’s), the restaurant grew to be a part of Oklahoma culinary history, no matter what it was called or who was running it. The original Hensley’s appealed not only to the locals, but to those who traveled along Route 66.
The remnants of a Hensley’s building are still located on the west side of the original railroad underpass for Highway 81 and Route 66 in El Reno. With only 10 stools in the original gas station/grill, Hensley’s churned out juicy hamburgers and luscious pieces of pie for only a dime each.It churned out juicy hamburgers and luscious pieces of pie for a only a dime each.
The new Yukon location has the same name and some Hensley family members on board, but it’s a different affair than the original, with smoke-tinged steaks and seating for more than 130. The facility has 6,400 square feet, with 4,000 square feet in the dining area.
“This site used to be a Santa Fe Cattle Company, but now it is nothing like a Santa Fe Cattle Company. There’s nothing like this in Canadian County and western Oklahoma,” said David Sullivan, executive chef.
Along the way during his career, Sullivan (pictured) stockpiled information on the finer points of dining. One of those is easy to spot at Hensley’s, which features steaks guaranteed to draw a crowd: Sullivan searched for and found heavy steak knives.
“We also picked out nickel silver silverware because we wanted to be better than anyone else in town,” he said. “Inside the dining area it feels like a Chicago-style steak house with high-back booths. The colors are burgundy, and there are earth tone colors in the booths.”
That’s a long way from the original Hensley’s. Its initial owner was Hutson Marion Hensley, who was the comptroller for the Rock Island Railroad, according to his grandson and part-owner of the new Hensley’s, John Kelly. Because Hutson grew so fond of Oklahoma, he turned down a promotion that would have transferred him to Chicago. Instead, he stayed here and founded Consumers Oil Company and operated an Anderson- Prichard gas station. He soon added a grill to the side of the station, and that’s when Hensley’s was born.
Decades later, Hensley’s is back in action with a complete flip-flop of the 1930s original. Its owners are John and Sadhna Kelly, Scott Williford and Steve Stavinoha, who is the operating partner. Sullivan, with his techniques and talent, is executive chef.
“Families and children are welcome,” Sullivan said. “This is definitely a family-friendly steak house, and we even have a petite sirloin for the kids, plus mac and cheese and chicken strips.”
His pride shows when Sullivan talks about his state-of-the-art kitchen that includes a grill that has the ability to burn pecan wood. The smoldering coals give his hand-cut steaks a deep, evocative edge of smokiness.
“It’s delicious,” he said. “It is smoked enough so that it tastes like it was done on an open fire, but not so smoky that it’s barbecue, and you get that little bit of char on the outside of the steak.”BUSINESS AND PLEASURE
Confession time: David Sullivan said he has never been more tired than he has been lately, or happier. He stays active in a most-demanding position kick-starting his staff. They are taking care of the expanding client base at Hensley’s, and he heads up a significant staff of 70, with several part-timers included in that number.
“I am amazed at the people who work here from surrounding areas of Yukon and Mustang who have been driving to Oklahoma City for all of their careers who can now work right here in their own area,” Sullivan said. “That way they can also show off their talents.”
The timing was right for the move to Yukon. The easy-to-talk-with Sullivan spent part of his career working as a chef at several places, but he said most people would know him from Michael’s Grill, 2824 W. Country Club Drive, or at the prestigious Oak Tree Country Club in Edmond, where he worked for almost five years.
Now, he’s heading things up at Hensley’s, 1151 S. Garth Brooks Blvd. in Yukon. The steak house also comes with a nice wine list for pairing with the meal. When it gets complicated for people who want that perfect bottle of wine with that steak, keep an eye out for Josh Burr, the wine expert.
“We recently re-did our wine menu, and Josh added lots of mid-range wines that are really affordable,” Sullivan said.
Burr is fluent in wine-speak, as he was in on the opening of the former Cascata (now Lottinvilles) in Edmond.—Carol Smaglinski
Photo by Mark Hancock