Thursday-Saturday, 11:30 a.m. to 1:30 p.m. and 5:00 p.m. to 9:00 p.m.
Stick Your Fork into Some Great-Tasting Food at Cunningham’s Feed in Arapahoe
Sometimes an innocent question may start a chain of events that carries an idea to a surprising end result. Mitzi and Kevin Urbom started Cunningham’s Feed, an American bistro, in Arapahoe after they answered “yes” to a question posed by their daughter, Leslie, in 2001.
“Leslie was enrolled in chef’s training at a culinary school, and she simply asked about the possibility of coming home to Arapahoe after graduation and starting a restaurant in her hometown,” said her mother, Mitzi. “We said, ‘yes!’”
At about that same time, Kevin said, the feed store building, founded in 1880 as a grocery store and repurposed into a seed and feed store in downtown Arapahoe, came up for sale.
Restoring and renovating a feed store into a restaurant sounds kind of fun
The idea crept closer to reality when Kevin said, “Restoring and renovating a feed store into a restaurant sounds kind of fun.” Their son, Jeremy, a graphic designer, reinforced his dad’s view and said he appreciated the play on words and proceeded to design the logo for Cunningham’s Feed incorporating a hay fork and dinner fork into the design.
Kevin Urbom is an attorney and manages a prosperous law practice in the Republican River Valley. The building renovation project turned into a second job after a full day at the law office. Over the eight years between the purchase and grand opening of Cunningham’s Feed, Kevin and friends de-constructed the 129-year-old building, refinished every board, restored the metal ceiling tiles, rebuilt walls and the roof, and added bathrooms and a commercial kitchen using all original wood from the building.
“We pulled up the old flooring and discovered a floor under the top floor,” Kevin said. “We planed every board, refinished each one and reused it. The booths are built of solid wood from the historic building.”
Bistro patrons enter Cunningham’s Feed through the original feed store door that has opened thousands of times in its long and useful life span, and they step across the threshold into a cooking, dining and serving space that beams “welcome” from the polished wood floor to the tin ceiling. The space and the menu offer the aesthetic of the neighborhood and a pleasant American style hospitality. The patina of years glows rich and deep, and I feel connected to an old world-charm that I seldom experience in Nebraska.
If we don’t enjoy it, it will not be served at Cunningham’s Feed
The “might be fun” project turned into a full-fledged bistro serving original and imaginative cuisine. Neither Kevin nor Mitzi had managed a restaurant prior to 2009, nor had they designed a professional menu, managed a staff of more than 10 people and a catering business, too.
“We opened in 2009, and we had no idea what we were getting into,” Mitzi said. “By then, our daughter had graduated with a culinary degree, married and had twins, and the premise of being a chef at Cunningham’s was set-aside.”
So, Mitzi and Kevin accepted the challenge and learned as much as they could about the restaurant business and food.
“Kevin and I appreciate fine food, and we were raised in families with amazing cooks, and we enjoyed eating fresh garden produce as children, and as adults we traveled to explore cuisines and the chefs creating the dishes we like,” Mitzi said. “Early on, we decided to serve our customers the foods that we liked eating ourselves, and if we don’t enjoy it, it will not be served at Cunningham’s Feed.”
Today at Cunningham’s, with few exceptions, they prepare the majority of the dishes in-house, and they make their own focaccia bread, hamburger buns, hoagie buns, white bread, biscuits and bread pudding. Kevin makes homemade ravioli incorporating chicken, spinach and asiago cheese. They dip fresh mushrooms in batter and fry them as starters.
With the appetizers and dinners, they serve top shelf liquor, beer, wine and soft drinks. The menu states, “We don’t buy cheap booze because we don’t like it and don’t want to serve it.” The bar stocks 20 wines (from Germany, California and Nebraska) and nine beer taps, including three microbrews (Lazlo’s, Thunderhead and Zipline) and specific vodkas, scotches, whiskeys and bourbons.
Kevin speaks with pride when he describes the Certified Angus Beef that he hand cuts for the grill. “Less than 8 percent of all beef will be graded as Certified Angus Beef,” he said. “We grill the highest quality of beef available to us.”
I often order the filet mignon because it is grilled consistently to the level of doneness that I prefer, medium rare, and I select the filet for its rich flavor and tenderness. I also happily choose the fresh salmon – tender and moist, grilled with a horseradish crust and accompanied by a dill and caper sauce. Cunningham’s grilled chicken breast tastes fabulous, too, because the meat is moist and tender and seasoned to enhance the chicken flavor. I like the butterflied pork tenderloin wrapped in bacon because I can taste a high-quality pork in every bite, and it also is grilled perfectly, keeping its moisture, tenderness and flavor.
I fantasize about the bistro’s salad bar – crisp and cold green lettuces, cucumbers in a homemade sauce, pickled beets, peppers, croutons and freshly made in-house dressings: blue cheese, Ranch and a Greek herbal salad dressing laced with Balsamic vinegar. I sometimes consider eating any one of these dressings with a spoon.
Kevin and Mitzi prepare much of the food themselves with the help of different chefs throughout the years, including current chef Jeff Walker.
Jeff grills fresh vegetables in every season: shaved Brussel sprouts on the grill in winter and early spring, grilled asparagus spears in early spring. Summer invites a swirl of zucchini squash and sautéed onions and/or a plate of fresh locally grown tomatoes and basil. Truffle fries, French fries seasoned with truffle-laced salt and a dash of truffle oil, hold a prominent place on the menu in every season.
Mitzi’s homemade bread pudding with caramel sauce provides a sweet ending to a farm-to-table meal.
Cunningham’s lunch menu features salads, sandwiches and a customer favorite, The Whole Farm Sandwich, which is a third-pound of Certified Angus Beef ground chuck, plus a tender breaded chicken breast topped with bacon slices, Swiss cheese and bistro sauce on a homemade bun.
See the lunch menu at https://www.facebook.com/cunninghams.feed/app/176825199082096/
- Our patrons appreciate different food and drink ideas. Cunningham’s will soon feature regular specials, such as a mint julep for spring and summer served in a special mint julep pot with straws delivered to the table.
- Hiring a chef is a challenge. “We hired Jeff, and I’m killing him with kindness,” Mitzi said. Lesson learned: never critique the cook.
- When we need wait staff, we go to our friends and most often hire school teachers. Most of our staff holds at least one college degree.
- We “pick our battles.” As much as we want to make our own onion rings (and we have a fabulous recipe), we don’t have a walk-in cooler and onion rings need to soak in buttermilk, then be breaded, dried and fried. The process takes time and one person’s dedication to the tasks.
- Owners, chefs and wait staff in any restaurant are wide open for anybody’s criticism and complaints. Learn how to handle complaints, protect the wait staff and the kitchen staff from abusive comments, and don’t take them personally!
- Encourage the wait staff with praise and build their confidence. Out on the floor, we need confident people.
- Our patrons tip generously. Amy Strand, a weekend waiter at Cunningham’s Feed, is traveling to Ireland and Scotland this summer with her husband, and the trip was funded with tips.
- We learned that we need a front-of-the-house leader and a back-of-the-house leader. Mitzi handles front-of-the-house responsibilities and Kevin the kitchen. Kevin is the foodie, and Mitzi checks the appearance of the plates and manages quality control.
Cunningham’s Feed, an American bistro, invites patrons to make Cunningham’s their rendezvous place and stop often to relax and refuel. Meet the hosts and enjoy the positive attention of the wait staff. Stay a little longer to hear the neighborhood news and savor the calm atmosphere and peaceful ways of the Arapahoe community.