Mon – Sat: 11 a.m. – 10 p.m.
Sun: 11 a.m. – 2 p.m.
Legendary Eustis Pool Hall in full swing for fun, fine dining
The legendary Eustis Pool Hall on Railway Street in Eustis, Nebraska, is approaching 100 years of delivering food, beverages and good times for families in the Eustis, Cozad, Lexington, and Johnson Lake region. The patina of the oak floors and the soft glow of the original tin ceiling in a solid wood building reflect community celebrations and good food and none better than now!
Seasoned restaurateurs Lonnie Lavens and Stephen Frazier hold the reins of this galloping enterprise and their sidekick Connie Koch rides shotgun. The three of them are steeped in restaurant best practices and the art of fine cooking. Plates arrive at the table at the desired temperatures while looking beautiful and tasting the way we like it.
Experience counts in the food business
Lavens and Frazier were steeped in the business of restaurants from their boyhoods. Lavens’ parents managed the Holiday Inn in Columbus, Nebraska, and he remembers serving banquets and assisting chefs in the kitchen as a boy.
“I grew up in the business and never left,” he said.
Frazier tells a similar story. “I started working at the Pool Hall in high school when Connie Koch reinvented the Pool Hall business,” said Frazier. “She added a Mexican flair and food to the bar menu and margaritas to the Coors and Budweiser bar, and as she said, ‘turned the lights down low and the music up.’” Frazier worked with Koch during his high school years and until 1992 when he migrated to Las Vegas to manage the bar at the Frontier Casino.
Frazier and Lavens connected in 2007 when they both were in Nebraska. They were introduced by mutual friends at a Cisco Food Distribution show where they also heard about a food business for sale in Cozad. Cozad is located off Interstate 80 and only seven miles from Eustis, Frazier’s home town. They trusted their instincts and common interests in food and restaurant management and dove into business together.
Starting small but quickly growing
They purchased the Cozad restaurant and started small — a basic sandwich and hamburger menu. Within a short time this expanded into top-end steaks, pork chops, and hamburgers with sides that brought customers back again and again until they were serving up to 200 people on weekend evenings.
The Cozad community supported their restaurant and with Monroe Manufacturing in town, a business with approximately 2,000 employees, their customer base was secure until October 2009 during the financial crisis. Monroe Manufacturing closed its doors.
“When the one factory in Cozad closed, the economy died,” Lavens said, “The plant closing ended the economy in Cozad and put us under too.”
These intrepid food entrepreneurs made a quick pivot and noticed that another Cozad restaurant, the Sweet ‘N More sandwich shop, was available for lease. They analyzed the tastes of their remaining customers, devised another business plan and set up another successful restaurant business. They served only sandwiches at their start-up, and by request expanded their menu to include dinner specials on Thursday, Friday, Saturday, and Sunday.
“Our business grew remarkably, and we were attracting hundreds of customers,” Lavens said. “We needed to expand the building to contain the growth.”
“We wanted to build a new building because we were busting at the seams,” Frazier added.
Enter the historic Eustis Pool Hall
The space issue resolved itself when Frazier read on Craig’s List that the Eustis Pool Hall was available and for sale.
“We jumped at the opportunity to acquire this historic building in Eustis,” he said.
The Eustis Pool Hall was turn-key ready. In August 2016, the partners made the purchase and took over in October on county fair weekend.
“We haven’t caught our breath yet,” Lavens said.
They appealed to Connie Koch to join them as advisor and bartender. During Koch’s ownership of the pool hall, it may have been the most successful restaurant within a 100-mile radius of Eustis
Koch sold the restaurant in 2003, and subsequent owners struggled to reinvent the well-liked menu and atmosphere until Frazier and Lavens opened in 2016. They consulted with Connie before their start-up, and she shared her tried-and-true and wildly popular recipes and her management expertise.
Koch’s years of leadership in the pool hall left indelible and happy memories, and current customers remember when Connie Koch owned the business. They have returned in huge numbers to dine and sip a margarita (Koch’s recipe) and drink a craft beer.
“Community support is overwhelming,” Lavens said. “We sold 200 dinners on our first day!”
Local foods, favorites and daily specials
Lavens and Frazier purchase fresh hamburger ground daily at Eustis grocery store and buy their cubed pork fillets at Sonny’s grocery in Cozad. Rowdy’s, a Eustis sausage factory, sources their sausages and a famous Eustis special – Hard Tac. Everyone needs to taste a Hard Tac to appreciate its regional popularity.
Daily specials like locally made Abee’s Pizza, hand-breaded chicken-fried steak, prime rib and the popular nacho plate, are enticing locals and visitors to stop by.
But the Eustis Pool Hall offers more than fine food and fun. The successful restaurant enterprise also attracts new businesses to Eustis.
“More people in town helps everybody,” Lavens says. “The grocery store stays open longer hours, and the owners of the service station report people are buying more fuel after hours.”
The new management team is making a commitment to Eustis and they hope others will follow their lead. “We are here to stay. Join us!”