Home to a diverse and tasty food scene, two of Lincoln’s most unique restaurants have found success where you least expect it, inside of gas stations.
Norm’s on 48th and Cheesesteak Grille may sound like the typical food joint, but upon further investigation, customers may find the locations to be, well, quite different. These two Lincoln staples can be found inside the neighborhood gas station, but don’t let locations fool you. Norm’s on 48th has been nominated for Lincoln’s Best of “Best Burger,” and both have been selected to be members of Lincoln’s “Munch Madness” tour, which highlights the 32 best restaurants the city has to offer. The bracket was finalized in February and has been a popular guide of Lincoln’s best food since KLIN radio began making it.
While the burgers and cheesesteaks have appealed to customers, the location also increased business.
“We didn’t have brand recognition as a new restaurant, so having a destination like the gas station was great because we’re going to have a natural flow of people coming up there and seeing my restaurant, if not trying my restaurant,” said Tony Reiling, owner of Cheesesteak Grille on 14th and Old Cheney Road.
Owners of Norm’s on 48th, located on 48th and Van Dorn, Stacy Sell and her husband, Dennis, shared the same sentiments. They operated their gas station first before taking up the restaurant venture in the same building. They started selling food two years ago with breakfast burritos and walking tacos, but after rave reviews and a little help from their son Tyler, they expanded into a full lunch service menu including burgers and barbeque.
“Since we got the food service expanded, we have a lot more traffic inside the store,” Sell said.
While Reiling may not own the gas station next door to Cheesesteak Grille, his conversations with its owner tell that his restaurant has been well received by all. Reiling sees around 150 to 200 customers daily and knows that the convenience store is feeling the positive impact his restaurant is having on their business as well.
The restaurants have faced their fair share of challenges, however, whether it be from COVID or the weather, but they haven’t stopped Reiling or the Sells yet from profiting.
“Because of service and because it is a little different here,” Sell said. “COVID really set us back in trying to figure out our niche.”
Reiling said Nebraska weather leaves a lot to wish for, such as the impact a drive-through would have on his business. Drive-throughs are popular in Nebraska because they shield customers from the rough conditions, and allow them to remain in the comfort of their cars. Reiling notes that this is a drawback of the location, and an improvement that would take time, money, and energy but he is happy knowing his customers and community have grown accustomed to his current business model of offering dine-out and carry-out.
Community support of the restaurants has been positive, and the owners said they know it wouldn’t be possible without loyal customers.
“We’re steady, and that’s really good,” Reiling said. “We don’t have a lot of peaks and valleys. We’ve been nice and steady having our regulars coming for lunch and dinner but the pandemic actually helped us to find some additional growth.”
“I really am shocked at how well received we were. It was a lot more than we thought but I love the community,” Sell said.
But these restaurants have a few more tricks up their sleeves. Sell said some new plans are in the works for Norm’s catering venture and new food equipment, including a new 500-gallon pull behind smoker.