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I'll throw in two cents. On recreating the dishes the restaurant is known for, I would look at how the dishes are being prepared. Consider what the dish is called, how it is currently prepared and with what ingredients.

     To illustrate, I'll use some classic dishes. If the dish is Peach Melba, is the sauce currently made from a mix or can but was originally made from scratch? Were the peaches brought in seasonally but now come out of a can?  

     Did the demi used in the Bordelaise sauce get made from scratch but now they use a Knorr-Swiss product or a beef base? 

DId they begin using cheaper wine to save a few dollars? 

Was butter originally used but now margarine is? 

Was the dish originally browned under the broiler/salamander but the broiler isn't there anymore so everyone thought no one would notice? 

I am not sure you need the original recipe if you can figure out what the original intent was. Then make the dish the best it can be with quality ingredients using proper techniques. 

   In addition to the owners, the long time customers should provide some insight. Was the dish spicier, thicker, bigger portioned, more cinnamon, less basil? 

Not everyone will have the same answer or memory but you should get some general insights. 

You could also contact the local library/newspaper to retrieve old restaurant reviews to see what the critic had to say. Do they mention something about the dish that isn't there anymore? 
"The beautiful scallops in the paella…." 

I'll have to agree with the general advice here that doing the current menu well is the best approach. Modernizing to a degree is fine but the real challenge is to do whatever you do well. 
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