Since 1932, Dreisbach’s Steak House had survived 70 years of floods, tornados, and a fire to become a world-renowned Midwest steak restaurant in the heart of Nebraska. Steak was just one of the many entrees the restaurant was known for: potatoes, buttermilk biscuits, ribs, Cole slaw, rabbit and of course all of the Dreisbach’s salad dressings. Mentioned in the media from Willard Scott on The Today Show to an article in The New Yorker and much more in between, Dreisbach’s Steak House was one of a kind and known worldwide.
It started in a small farmhouse on the outskirts of Grand Island, Nebraska when a candy salesman, Ferd Dreisbach, decided he wanted to try his hand in the restaurant business. Ferd opened the 45 seat restaurant with his mother in 1932 where they would cook up rabbit and chicken for their traveling patrons. It became a spot that the local people would go to for dinner and the Dreisbach’s restaurant was born.
In 1945 Frank Dowd and a partner bought the farmhouse from Dreisbach. Frank was a businessman with an interest in the creative side of food. He began experimenting with dry aging steaks and pan-frying chicken. He also incorporated Sunflower and hash brown potatoes, ribs, buttermilk biscuits and salad dressings to expand the menu. Frank then bought out his business partner in 1947 and continued.
People came from all over to get a two inch thick steak with a side of sunflower potatoes with melted cheese on top, and a wedge of lettuce smothered with chunky blue cheese dressing. The popularity of Dreisbach’s caused Frank along with younger brother, Richard Dowd, to expanded the restaurant in 1958 to accommodate 200 people. He expanded yet again in 1963 with two more dining rooms and a basement, to put the count at an astounding 600 seats. On a Friday and Saturday evening the restaurant would put out over 1,500 meals, 75 percent of them containing a dry aged steak.
The first of many natural disasters occurred to the steak house on June 3, 1967. The town of Grand Island, which is surrounded by three rivers, began to flood and consequently put the town under five feet of water. The Dreisbach’s basement which included the meat room and a dining room was under water and unavailable, but the restaurant was quickly restored and back to serving up beef in no time.
That was also the same year that Frank Dowd’s son, Patrick Dowd, began working at the establishment. Patrick worked there growing up and after graduating from college he moved back to Grand Island to follow in his father’s footsteps. Patrick eventually took over after Frank retired in the late 1970’s.
When seven tornadoes ripped through the city of Grand Island on the night of June 3, 1980, Dreisbach’s was one of the few buildings still standing (despite the claim that Dreisbach’s was destroyed in the book, ‘Night of the Twisters' by Ivy Ruckman). The building had severe damage done to the roof and all of the doors were blown through, but for the hundreds of diners that were inside enjoying their meals before the sirens went off, they found refuge in the building’s basement and left after unharmed. The real damage was with all of the steaks that were abandoned on the grill and the one’s that were just freshly served and still steaming on the plates in the main floor dining rooms.
The restaurant had taken a hit with the tornadoes, but as usual, 10 days later it was back serving the public that enjoyed it so much. As time went by people from all over the nation began to notice the famed Nebraska restaurant. Patrick Dowd began shipping steaks and salad dressings from California to Maine. Then disaster struck, once again, on the night of November 19, 1985. A chicken fryer shorted out and the old farmhouse went up in flames. Luckily no one was hurt, but after 53 years the restaurant.
A fire was not going to stop the Dowd family, which now included Pat’s sister Mary Jo Dowd, from getting people their steaks, chicken, and potatoes. During the year that the restaurant was being rebuilt, the Dowd’s worked out of two different business locations in Grand Island, one for carry-out and catering, the other for a sit down dinner.
Finally, in October 1986, the Dreisbach’s restaurant was ready for it’s unveiling to the public. The elegant 550 seat restaurant lacked the character of the old farmhouse and all its historical charm, but once you took your first bite of your dinner it didn’t matter what your surroundings were, you were eating a Dreisbach’s meal.
Once again people from all over the nation would wait for hours just to get a seat at the restaurant. To accommodate the massive amount of steak shipments that were flowing in, Pat decided to head a new venture and in 1987 Dreisbach’s Steaks, Inc. was opened next door to the restaurant. Not only did Dreisbach’s ship to all 50 states, but Patrick took the steaks internationally as well. Japan, Taiwan, Hong Kong, Singapore, and England were among many of the different countries that were on the Dreisbach’s steak shipment labels.
In the early 1990’s the third generation of the Dowd family began to follow in their father and grandfather’s footsteps. Carrie Dowd began managing the restaurant, while her brother David Dowd learned the famous dry aging and meat cutting process that his grandfather cultivated. Patrick’s wife, Suzanne, maintained the books for the restaurant and later in the 1990’s the other two daughters, Angela and Katie joined the Dowd legacy in management at the restaurant.
Dreisbach’s closed its doors for good, in 2002 after 70 years of business. Generations of families that had gone to the restaurant were in disbelief and saddened by the departure of a Grand Island landmark. The last family-style dinner had been served, the last sunflower potato had been shaped, and the last steak had been grilled. It was a shock to the patrons that would drive hundreds of miles out of their way just to eat at Dreisbach’s, and the extended family of employee’s that worked their for more than 40 years.
After many years of being closed, the Dowd family still received phone calls and emails about people wanting Dreisbach’s food. Finally in December of 2009, in response to all of the loyal Dreisbach’s fans, Carrie and Angela Dowd released a line of the same salad dressings that were served in the restaurant all those years ago, and the legacy continues.