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Lippy's BBQ bringing back a Malcolm landmark
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Lippy's BBQ bringing back a Malcolm landmark

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MALCOLM -- Kelly and Sandy Streeter turned the key in the battered door of the former Branched Oak Inn, slid back the bolt and walked a decade back in time.

It’s been nine years since waitresses last carried trays stacked with steaks and sweating beer bottles to sun-burnt patrons famished after a day at Pawnee or Branched Oak lakes.

Yet other than the thick coat of dust, it looked ready for customers to take a seat.

“It literally looked like you walked into a time capsule. There was still plates, salt and pepper shakers on the table. It was kind of a surprise,” Sandy said.

Then they started gutting it. They pulled wood paneling and orange shag carpet from the walls and ripped up multiple layers of vinyl flooring. They’re in the process of having the roof replaced and repairing damage from a fire in the 1970s that a former owner had hid with a drop ceiling.

Kelly and Sandy, owners of Lippy’s BBQ across the street, bought the building in September.

Their dream is to move Lippy’s famous ribs and bacon-wrapped jalapeño poppers from a tiny 24-seat diner to a building capable of seating 140 people downstairs and 300 upstairs for special events and the occasional blues concert.

While the name and motif will be different, they'll be continuing an 85-year-old Malcolm community tradition.

The community center

Everyone’s got a story about the Branched Oak Inn, Sandy said.

“One gal told us this is right where I sat in these booths and told my husband I was pregnant,” Kelly said.

“Another gal said this is where I met your father and where I divorced him too.”

The Malcolm Holding Co. built the Branched Oak Inn on top of three massive steel trusses and beams sunk into cement in 1932, during the Great Depression.

Originally known as the Malcolm Community Hall, the downstairs was divided. Women and children were only allowed on the side where pop, ice cream and candy was sold, according to a history written by Maxine Carr Nelson Herman, whose parents, George and Agnes Carr, bought the building in the late 1930s. Herman’s husband, Andrae, would later buy it in 1978.

Local legend says the Harlem Globetrotters once played in the gymnasium upstairs in the 1930s.

Malcolm Public Schools used the gym for basketball or volleyball and the building's stage hosted countless plays and school musicals. Generations of students carved their name into the backsides of the stage walls.

When fire destroyed the town’s school in the 1940s, classes picked back up in the community hall.

On winter Saturdays, kids would lace up their roller skates and roll around the upper floor. In the summer they’d sit outside on Friday night to watch a movie projected onto a screen attached to the building.

Charlie Rohe, who owned the building for about seven years, named it the Branched Oak Inn in the 1970s. He hosted music most weekends and once boasted he sold more Budweiser than any bar in Lincoln.

An inn no more

Hungry people out for a weekend at the lakes to fish, camp and swim knew they could get a cheap steak dinner at Branched Oak Inn. Some drove to the inn on Sundays just for the chicken.

That is until 2008 when the owners lost it in bankruptcy.

That last November night was a doozy.

Lancaster County Sheriff’s deputies got called to a disturbance. Deputies reported everything outside looked fine. But inside they found 60 people, many of them behind the bar pouring drinks and knocking them back.

The patrons told the officers that because it was the bar’s last night, drinks were on the house.

Deputies cleared the building without incident, according to their report.

The building sold at auction to Craig Blake and his partners Keith Blake, Darren Blake and Todd Corliss -- who also own the Trackside Bar in Waverly, the Ding-A-Ling Bar in Raymond and the Ashland Keno Kove.

Initially, they discussed reopening the Branched Oak Inn or demolishing it and putting up a new building, but nothing materialized.

Two years ago, the Malcolm Village Board started looking into taking the building via eminent domain, Village Clerk Nadine Link said. 

Under pressure from the village, Craig Blake contacted Kelly and Sandy.

For the owners of Lippy’s, the timing seemed perfect. They had outgrown their small space and had just taken a business development class at Concordia University.

“We’re not super religious people, but this whole thing has been incredibly divine,” Kelly said.

They hope to have the building overhauled and ready to open by the end of June.

Upstairs they plan to restore the old oak floor and leave it open to host large parties and concerts.

The downstairs motif will echo the decor of Lippy’s smaller storefront across the street with white tile floors and blues memorabilia decorating walls painted the same color of the spices Kelly rubs on his meat.

“We took our rub into Home Depot and had them match it,” Sandy said.

Reach the writer at 402-473-7304 or nbergin@journalstar.com.

 On Twitter @ljsbergin.

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