The biggest news on Lincoln’s dining scene in 2017 wasn’t what opened or closed, but rather what changed hands.
At least five prominent restaurants — La Paz Mexican Restaurant, Red Fox Steak House & Lounge, Piezano’s, The Normandy and Piedmont Bistro — saw ownership changes.
La Paz especially raised some eyebrows. After all, Rick and Julie Holm had run the restaurant at 321 N. Cotner Blvd. since May 1989. They turned it over April 1 to a former employee (Andrew Wilson) and a current one (Jonas Steele).
“On one hand, it’s breaking our hearts to walk away,” Rick Holm told the Journal Star in mid-March. “On the other hand, this offers us an opportunity to do some other things in our lives.”
Rick Holm said La Paz succeeded, when others didn’t, because the Holms maintained their food quality and had good help — like Steele, who had worked there 20-plus years, Wilson and others.
“I also really think it helped to have owners of a small mom and pop-type place to be around all the time,” he said. “For the first 20 years, we lived there night and day.”
Also in 1989, Don Arena opened the Red Fox at 1339 W. O St. He sold it in August to April Henke, who returned to Nebraska from New Orleans to find and run a restaurant. Arena, who also owns the Fox Neighborhood Grill at 1245 Libra Drive, near Lincoln Southwest High School, said he sold the Red Fox to free up time for himself.
“I’m at that point where I want to enjoy life,” said Arena, who's been in the bar/food service business since 1976. “In this business, you have to be dedicated. You have to be there every day, and at some point you say to yourself, ‘I’m not going to be here forever.'”
Greg Friesen sold Piezano’s, the neighborhood Italian restaurant at 2740 South St., in May to friends Colby Honke, Ryan Riley and Matthew Quintero. Friesen had it since 2006. The late Dick and Diane Burner originally opened the pizzeria in 1982.
Venue, the popular fine dining restaurant at 70th Street and Pioneers Boulevard, reopened Piedmont Bistro at 1265 S. Cotner Blvd. in January. It had closed in December 2016 because of financial reasons.
Lawrence de Villiers sold The Normandy to former employees Eric and Emily Post in December. A French immigrant, de Villiers began baking and selling pastries at farmers markets seven years ago. He and his wife, Renee, opened The Normandy in The Railyard’s Public Market in 2013 and moved it to its current location at 2785 S. 17th St. in February 2014. It specialized in French cuisine.
Other Lincoln dining headlines for 2017 included:
* Maggie Pleskac closing Maggie’s Vegetarian Cafe after more than 17 years at 311 N. Eighth St. in the Haymarket. Pleskac said the cafe was doing fine financially, but she felt it was time “to shift gears.”
* Bread&cup closing after 10 years at 440 N. Eighth St. in the Haymarket for financial reasons. Opened in 2007 by Kevin and Karen Shinn, the bakery/restaurant had been a favorite of my wife and me. I’m sad to see it go.
* Doc's Place, one of Lincoln's most popular watering holes, closed its doors in July after 18 years at 140 N. Eighth St. Troy Falk, who opened the Haymarket bar in 1999, said he and the building's landlord decided to move in different directions.
* Matt Stinchfield, one of Lincoln’s top brewers, closed his tap room/restaurant, Ploughshare Brewing Co., in July because of financial reasons after three years at 1630 P St. "People are going to say, 'I was in there; the place was hopping,' but the answer is, it's a math problem, and the income was insufficient to manage the debt," Stinchfield said.
* M&N Sandwich Shop owner Norm Kusinski died following an illness. Kusinski, believed to be 71, came off as Oscar the Grouch, but deep down he was a softy, and, boy, could he make a sandwich, specializing in Chicago Italian beef on Gonnella rolls.
* Phat Jack’s making its second move. Arguably Lincoln’s best barbecue restaurant, Phat Jack’s popularity necessitated its move in February from 11th Street and Cornhusker Highway to more-spacious digs at 101 S.W. 14th Place. It originally opened in 2008 at 40th and Cornhusker and moved to Belmont Plaza in January 2012.
* In February, Matt Meyers learned the Brewers Association named his pub, Happy Raven, the best beer bar in Nebraska for 2017 in the Great American Beer Bars competition. The bar at 122 N. 11th St. has more than 100 different kinds of canned and bottled beer and 18 varieties on tap.
* Lincoln’s last Boston Market, at 500 N. 48th St., closed in October. The city at one point in the mid-1990s had three Boston Market locations, but one at 17th and Q streets closed in 1997 and another at 27th and Cornhusker closed in 1998 after the parent company declared bankruptcy. The 48th Street store opened in 1995.
* Chevy’s Fresh Mex, a fast-casual chain operating at 5500 S. 56th St., also closed in October, just a month shy of its two-year anniversary.