Some men look at an old restaurant and ask: “Why?”
Others ask: “Why not add a daily Wild West show, new menu items and turn the place into a genuine tourist stop?”
That’s the ambitious plan for the Desert Inn, an iconic roadside attraction in Yeehaw Junction, an unincorporated rural community in southern Osceola County. After being shuttered for much of the past year, the restaurant and bar reopened a few weeks ago with new management and a renewed interest in connecting its past to its future.
“This building has a tremendous amount of history,” says Kevin Roberts, the restaurant manager, who is delivering plates of burgers and hot dogs to a steady trickle of guests on a rainy afternoon. “It’s definitely a step back in time, a window on the past.”
As early as 1889, the Desert Inn was a barroom and brothel catering to cowboys and lumber workers, and the look of the place hasn’t evolved too much since. The Desert Inn didn’t install full-service water and electricity until 1978.
Through the years, the Desert Inn has been a trading post, gas station and dance hall. In 1994 it was listed on the National Register of Historic Places.
A former casting director at an Orlando theme park with acting experience in TV commercials, Roberts wants to add entertainment to the Desert Inn menu. His vision includes daily Wild West shows built on the place’s history as a brothel. He wants to play a sheriff who keeps the peace between a wife and her cheating husband, all dressed in period costumes.
A new menu is on the way with prime-rib plates and Thanksgiving-style turkey dinners.
Eventually, Roberts would like to reopen the doors to the Desert Inn’s upstairs museum, where frilly corsets are laid out across the bedspread in the bordello suite, adorned with red carpet, lace pillows and a swing.
The museum, restaurant and adjoining motel are backdrops for the many ghost tales tied to the place. On my visit, a cook tells me about blasts of cold air in the bordello and a mannequin lunging on its own across the dining room.
Ghost lore will be part of the show, along with fake spiders lowered from the ceiling by strings hooked behind the bar. Find Desert Inn Restaurant on Facebook to track the progress.• Desert Inn and Restaurant, 5570 S. Kenansville Rd., Yeehaw Junction; 407-436-1054; www.facebook.com/DesertInnandRestaurant.