Located in downtown Franklin, a block north of the Johnson County Courthouse, The Willard’s website states that the eatery is known for “get-togethers with friends, family, good food, outdoor dining and an all-around good time.” It’s also famed for possibly being haunted.
The original brick house that is the core of the present structure was built in 1860 by William and Cynthia King McCaslin. In 1922, the home was sold for $11,000 to Eliza Patterson Willard and her niece and nephew, Mr. and Mrs. Will Judah. Willard and the Judahs remodeled the interior of the home and added to it, and from that time on, the building was known as The Willard Hotel. The hotel welcomed travelers until the early 1970s, but after the hotel closed, the building sat idle for several years — until it was purchased and reimagined as an eatery.
Tony Priola, and his wife, Emily, are the current owners of The Willard, and the couple bought the enterprise in 2015 from Priola’s parents, who took over the restaurant from its previous owners in 1990.
Due to the building’s complex history, rumors abound about what has transpired within its walls, and whether the structure is actually haunted. “A lot of people have ideas about what went on here back in the day. Retired police officers talked about removing people who passed away years and years ago. Eliza, one of the former owners — she haunts The Willard to this day,” Priola told Andy Bell-Baltaci of the Daily Journal in 2022. “She passed away in an apartment connected to the building.”
Priola also said that he has seen lights flickering and glasses falling off the bar throughout the years. “There’s an eeriness here, turning off the lights at night and the hair on the back of your neck stands up,” Priola told Bell-Baltaci.
Whether you visit The Willard for its potential paranormal activity or not, you can enjoy a satisfying meal. The restaurant is renowned for its pizzas, served with your choice of original or thin crust. You can choose to build your own or pick one of their specialty options, such as “The Ranch,” with ranch dressing, or the delightfully spicy “Yahoo,” with jalapeños, crushed red pepper, Tabasco® sauce and cayenne pepper.
Chicken wings are also a popular pick, and you can opt for boneless or traditional wings with a variety of tasty sauces. Sandwich options are plentiful, including pulled pork, ribeye, breaded tenderloin, tuna salad and Buffalo chicken. There are also burgers galore and several entrée-sized salads.
If you’re in the mood for a beer or cocktail, you’re in luck: The Willard features over 75 different alcoholic beverages on its beer and wine list.
After you’ve feasted on The Willard’s delicious offerings, you’re likely to leave the restaurant satisfied. Will you also be spooked? You’ll have to visit to find out.
The Willard opens every day at 11 a.m. For the latest information, visit Thewillard.com.
If you go …
99 N. Main St., Franklin