When long-time customers go for a bite at Lee’s Chicken in Lincoln, manager Denis Khan says he thinks something special happens.
“I like to refer to this place as a time machine for folks who have come here for years and years. When they come in, they kind of fall back in time,” he said.
Lee’s is just one of many Nebraska’s historic restaurants that feel like a doorway to the past. Most of these restaurants have kept their original recipes and old-school atmosphere to keep customers — sometimes even including fourth-generations — coming back.
Here are a few of the most visited historic restaurants in the state.
Lee’s Chicken | Lincoln
Lee’s Chicken is one of the most well-known restaurants in Nebraska. Sitting on the corner of West Van Dorn and South Coddington in Lincoln, it became a staple for the community’s fried chicken and homestyle cooking.
Lee’s opened its doors 76 years ago. And not much seems to be changed in the shack-styled restaurant — with it’s old-school fixtures and displays of vintage black and white photographs of customers, dating back to the mid 1950s.
Kahn has worked at Lee’s for 30 years. He is a self-proclaimed “indentured server” who married into the family and took on the restaurant business. He credits the friendly atmosphere and quality food for the reason Lee’s has kept its doors open for so many years.
“We have the history behind us, but most of all it’s a really friendly, relaxed place to come and hang out with your friends and enjoy some classic home cooking,” he said. “That’s what’s kept us in business for all these years.”
Lee’s loyal clientele is a major component of what makes the restaurant a classic in Nebraska. Many of its customers have dined at the restaurant for decades and continue to keep coming back.
“A lot of our clientele are older because they’ve been coming here their whole lives,” he said. “But the beauty of that is they bring their children and their children have children, so we’re starting to see — up to — four generations at a table at one time.”
The history goes back even further to covered-wagon days. The crossroads where Lee’s is located was once a stop for travelers in the Midwest to rest and eat in the 19th century.
The owners and employees of the restaurant intend to keep the tradition going for as long as possible.
“Lee’s has been here 76 years and my personal goal is to get it to 100,” Kahn said.
Ken and Dale’s Restaurant | Alliance
Ken and Dale’s Restaurant is best known for its broasted chicken, buttermilk pancakes and wide selection of beer and wine.
Ken and Dale’s is an essential eatery to its locals and travelers within this community of 8,000 near the Panhandle
Owner Matt Redecker said the restaurant’s traditional approach to customer service and quality in food has distinguished itself to customers compared to other establishments.
“We do things the way restaurants used to be run as opposed to chains,” he said. “I feel like we give good value to our customers for what we serve.”
The restaurant has a variety of customers.
“Alliance serves a lot of local customers, but we see a lot of people travel in and through too,” he said. “Surprisingly enough, tons of people go through here every year so we see people from every area and other countries too.”
Customers rave about the menu variety and wide selection of breakfast, lunch and dinner offerings, The establishment has been open for the last 30 years, and Redecker said the dedication to serve the community is ultimately what keeps customers coming back.
“It’s a lot of experience and a lot of hard work,” he said. “We serve the community and serve people who are traveling. It’s a hard business and a hard one to keep going anymore in towns with a population of 10,000 and under.”
Murphy’s Wagon Wheel | Hastings
Pit-style BBQ and a rich, historic atmosphere is Murphy’s Wagon Wheel’s specialty.
Murphy’s is an old school, country-style tavern located on the corner of West First Street and North Lincoln Avenue in Hastings.
Murphy’s gained recognition in the community for its wood smoked BBQ and burgers since the early 1970s.
Owner Jamison Murphy has been carrying on the family business for the last two years. Previously, his grandparents opened the restaurant in 1971 until his father bought it in 1976.
Despite the decades that have passed since its opening, Murphy’s keeps its nostalgic fixtures including authentic wood and brick siding and vintage memorabilia decorating its walls.
Murphy said the building that houses the restaurant is historic to the community, and the family has ensured to keep that essence since the restaurant began.
“The building has been a bar since 1889 and we’ve expanded off of that,” he said. “But it’s actual wood siding inside and brick. Then everything is cooked on a wood fire so it all goes together.”
Besides its rustic ambiance, Murphy’s has become a household name in Hastings because of the value it brings to the customers.
“I think we’ve been able to stay open for so many years because of the name,” he said. “Who we are and how we work it. We’re not ‘sit down’ owners, we’re ‘in the business’ owners.”
Murphy said he believes it’s important for overall customer service for him as the owner to be in the restaurant, helping bartend, run food and talk to customers.
The people who frequent the restaurant are of all ages and as more time passes, the owners are adding some modern touches to the building, including a new rooftop bar that includes five outdoor expanded, private rooms.
“We’re putting together whole new concepts and it’s the first community to accept it,” he said. “Miami doesn’t have it, New York doesn’t have it, Chicago doesn’t have it.”
Dave’s Place and Lounge | North Platte
Dave’s Place and Lounge sells its famous chicken wings and pizza to the community of North Platte.
It is a locally owned and operated business that sits on the corner of North McCabe Avenue and East Fourth Street.
Dave’s Place and Lounge is a local restaurant, but has ties to the original Godfather’s franchise. Previous owner Roger Myers opened Godfather’s Pizza back in 1973 before selling his stake to his brother, who eventually sold it to Dave Williams in 2012.
Williams transformed the restaurant by removing itself from the franchise, changing the name to Dave’s and moving it to its current location.
Myers, 73, now works as manager to Dave’s and boasts that the quality of the food has remained the same.
“We have the best pizza and wings you’ll find anywhere in the Midwest,” he said.
After Williams turned the restaurant into Dave’s, it has become considered a staple among locals, whom Myers credits as the restaurants core clientele.
“You can ask any of our locals, once you’ve had our pizza, it’s the best you’ll find,” he said. “Because our pizza dough is fresh, which most places don’t do anymore, but I make it fresh myself every day.”
Besides its fresh food, the laid-back ambiance attracts locals with its dim lighting and sports shows on multiple TVs. Dave’s also keeps a touch of the past in the establishment that was once part of the original Godfather’s building.
“The bar we have in here is an original bar way back when Buffalo Bill was still around,” he said, joking.
Despite Dave’s being a newer restaurant, Myers sees it continuing to be successful in the community for its quality food.
“There is no doubt in my mind that it’ll be open long after I’m gone just for the fact that people love Dave’s pizza and wings,” he said. “You just can’t find it anywhere else and for that price.”
Misty’s Restaurant and Lounge | Lincoln
Misty’s was created by Bob and Grace Milton first as a Club 63, a bottle club that formed back in 1963. Misty’s became a restaurant in 1965 when Nebraska’s liquor laws changed and a grill was added to the establishment.
Misty’s Restaurant and Lounge remains at the original location of Club 63 in the historic neighborhood of Havelock. After serving the community for decades, Misty’s is most known for its famous prime rib and Nebraska football memorabilia and pep rallies.
The traditional pep rallies continue to be held on the eve of a home game. Scarlet dancers and the University of Nebraska-Lincoln band members perform at the restaurant for customers.
“It’s a really cool experience to be part of because so many people, in and out of town, come in to see it,” said server Jadelynn Lind.
Lind has been a server at Misty’s for the past three years. Besides pep rallies, she also believes the service and food is what keeps customers coming back.
“The food is really good quality,” she said. “I always get customers who tell me how much they’ve always loved the prime rib.”
Stacey Geist, a long-time server who has been with the restaurant for over three decades, agrees that consistency is a key to the fame behind the Misty’s name.
“I hear this from customers,” she said. “They go to other places and say the service is not as good except for when they come here. The food is consistent and the service is consistent.”
Geist also credits the nostalgic ambience as an attraction for customers.
“People love this restaurant. They love how old it is, they love the booths, they love the sunken bar, they love all of the memorabilia and everything,” she said.
The ambiance of Misty’s is reminiscent of its original days. The 70s decor includes circular leather booths, a coat closet and vintage artwork displayed on every wall.
Denise Nelson has been manager of Misty’s for nearly 20 years and boasts that the nostalgic atmosphere and service is what has kept the restaurant open for so many years.
“It’s a family-oriented business. It’s historic and has top notch service,” she said. “It has stayed open for so long because of the consistency.”