Ribbon Cut

Community celebrates a Lincoln mainstay revitalized
Ribbon cut at the new Blue Dog Steakery

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[September 26, 2023]   On Monday morning several people gathered behind the ribbon for a cutting ceremony at the new Blue Dog Steakery. Some will recognize the name Blue Dog from the many years the popular eatery in Lincoln was owned and operated by John and Barb Blackburn.

A few years ago, the couple made the decision that they would be selling the restaurant and pub, but at the same time they were in no big hurry. They wanted to find the right people to take up the torch and lead the restaurant into the future.

Just before the onset of the Covid pandemic, the Blackburns had good prospects for that future goal. But the lock down and shut down of many businesses took its tole on the new owners, and soon the Blue Dog was closed and there were no immediate prospects.

In the meantime, Val Carnes and Paul Sabo were dipping their toes in the waters of restaurant and bar management. Sabo was operating the Frothy Bottom, and Carnes took on management of the village owned New Holland Café. The two worked together in both ventures, and soon found they had an appetite to do something more.

At the ribbon cut on Monday, and on several other occasions, Sabo explained that when he and Val moved to Lincoln about five years ago, the Blue Dog Inn was the first place they ate in the city. Afterward, they continued to patronize the business for as long as it was open.

Now, as they explored their options for the future, ownership of the Blue Dog became an exciting dream, and one that the two felt could come true. After a lot of work with real estate Agency ME Realty and Gaynor Goodman of that office, with help from their good friend and banker Annie Coers with Tremont Bank and with plenty of support from others, the dream morphed into ownership.

During an interview last week, Sabo said that the two loved the Blue Dog as it was, but also saw that they could lead it into the future as the Blackburns had hoped. Those who visited the eatery in the first few days of its opening found many of the traditional food items on the menu, but also some new options including the made-to-order steaks and a food bar with an all you can eat option or a one trip option.

The interior has been redone but not to the point that you feel like you are entering a place where you have never been.

The large dining area where meetings can be held is basically the same, but with a slightly different blue color scheme. In the front room of the business, the booths have been removed and replaced with tables for a roomier feel.

But, the booths are still available. They have been relocated to the back half of the first room. Carnes said that the goal is to have that back dining area reflect the original Blue Dog with the booths in place and photos and other items to bring to remembrance the Blue Dog Inn of the Blackburns.

Monday morning, joining Carnes and Sabo behind the ribbon were several of the restaurant’s 21 staff members, John and Barb Blackburn, Annie Coers, Gaynor and Seth Goodman, Jaimie Vaughn with Prairie Land Title, 2023 Logan County Fair Queen Ellyn Martinez, Alice Roate and Lexie Groves with the Logan County Tourism Bureau, Lincoln City Clerk Peggy Bateman, Lincoln Ward Three Alderwoman Wanda Lee Rohlfs, and Chassidy White and Karen Castelein with Lincoln Daily News. Nila Smith with LDN served as the emcee for the event.

Smith opened with comments about why it is important to hold ribbon cuts. It is a chance for members of the community to show their support and voice their support for new businesses, business owners, or businesses celebrating significant achievements. She said it is also an opportunity for those owners to celebrate their own achievement and at the same time acknowledge those who have been behind them, cheering them on and supporting them through the process.

One such supporter for Carnes and Sabo was Annie Coers whom Carnes referred to as not only a great business associate, but moreover a wonderful friend. Coers said that the day was about Val and Paul and she was pleased to be able to congratulate them on their hard work and ultimate accomplishments.

Gaynor Goodman was acknowledged as the person who had been with them hand in hand through the purchase of the Blue Dog building. She said that she had come to love Sabo and Carnes and was very proud to have been part of their journey.

Jaimie Vaughn was also recognized by the pair as one who had been very supportive during the purchase process.

The Blackburns were asked if they wished to comment. John Blackburn said that he was happy that they found someone to take on the Blue Dog and wished them the best for the future.

Mayor Tracy Welch was unable to attend, so Alderwoman Rohlfs spoke on behalf of the city. She told Carnes and Sabo that she is the representative of Ward Three and their business in located in her ward. She said she had many fond memories of the Blue Dog and frequented it many times when it was owned by the Blackburns. She said she was looking forward to future visits with the new ownership.

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Turning to speak directly to Carnes and Sabo she said that she was always available to them as their ward representative and would be happy to help them through any questions from the city perspective.

When it was time for the owners to speak, Sabo began, noting that the couple moved to Lincoln five years ago. As had been mentioned many times, he said that the Blue Dog was the first place they had eaten even before they had a home in town. He said they had a love for the Blue Dog and a love for Lincoln. He added that the long-term plan had not necessarily been to stay in Logan County long term. The goal had been to eventually move further south to a warmer climate, but now, they knew that they had found their long-term home. He said that buying the Blue Dog was “just one of those crazy ideas Val came up with and I went along, and now here we are.”

Then it was time for Carnes to speak. She began by saying thank you to all those who were a part of the transition. She called several people by name including Coers and the Blackburns. She said, “Lincoln means a lot to us.” She said they have a staff that is phenomenal. She thanked the community and the customers who had been supportive and patient with them in the first two weeks of being open. She said the restaurant had its fair share of glitches in those first two weeks, but guests had been kind and had forgiven them any of their shortcomings.

Following Carnes, it was time for the posed pictured and the traditional count down when Sabo and Carnes together snipped the ribbon on their business.

The steakery opened at 11 a.m. and in was about one minute before as everyone filed back inside.

Many of those at the cut stayed for lunch including the Blackburns. Before noon the place was hopping with business and wait staff was on the run keeping up with all the guests.

The food was served hot and delicious. Many enjoyed the food bar while others took advantage of the lunch time sandwich menu that includes hamburgers, BLT’s a variety of pork and beef sandwiches along with turkey and chicken. The food bar includes French Onion soup daily and a second soup of the day. The baker for the restaurant is David Carter and fresh bread is made daily along with other delightful items.

The restaurant also offers the K-9 and the Puppy Shoe, a wink to the horseshoe, with grilled toast, fries, a choice of meats including grilled tenderloin, chicken or hamburger, and a house made cheese sauce that is mild and flavorful.

The evening menu features a variety of made to order steaks, with other options as well.

All the food is made from scratch daily. And nothing is pre-cooked. Sabo had commented that a freshly grilled steak takes a little longer, but the taste compared to one that was cooked at the beginning of service and held in a warmer until it is ordered, makes the wait well worth it.

The Blue Dog Steakery, located at 111 South Sangamon in Lincoln, is open seven days a week. Monday through Thursday the hours are 11 a.m. to 8 p.m. Friday and Saturday hours are 11 a.m. to 9 p.m. and on Sunday, the restaurant is open from 11 a.m. to 2 p.m.

[Nila Smith]

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