The North Bend Eagle


Rawhide changing hands, not families

by Nathan Arneal
Published 1/25/12

It’s the end of an era for the North Bend dining scene.

Sunday night LeRoy Bird sliced his last prime rib as the owner of the Rawhide Steakhouse. He and his wife Barb bought the Frontier Steakhouse on the east end of North Bend in 1978 and changed its name to the Rawhide.

Birds last night at the RawhideBarb and LeRoy Bird have been serving up prime rib and chicken fried steak at the Rawhide since 1978. Sunday [Jan. 22, 2012] was their last day at the resaurant.

The Birds tried retirement once before when they sold the restaurant in 2003, but it didn’t stick. They repurchased and reopened the Rawhide again in 2006. This time, there’s no coming back.

“This is it,” LeRoy Bird said. “We’re just going to quit and relax.”

The Rawhide will remain in Bird hands, however. LeRoy and Barb’s son, David, a 1994 graduate of North Bend Central, has purchased the steakhouse.

Nothing special was planned for LeRoy and Barb’s final night, it was just a typical Sunday night at the Rawhide. The past couple of weeks have seen many old friends stop in for one last meal off LeRoy’s stove.

“It’s been real busy,” Barb Bird said. “People have come in that haven’t been here for a while. It’s been nice to see people.”

The restaurant will remain closed for some remodeling work until Feb. 14, when it will reopen under David Bird’s management.

David, 36, spent his formative years helping his parents at the Rawhide, but he never envisioned a time where he would take over the business. With his parents ready to retire, the thought entered his mind.

David plans to continue working full time at his accounting job in Omaha, so it was important for him to find the right man to serve as the head chef and someone to run the day-to-day operations.

“I’m not a cook,” David Bird said. “My only restaurant experience is working at the Rawhide. I wouldn’t be a good fit for it. But I really love the place and I know it can be successful. ”

Bird believes he found his man in Brian Jurgens. A 1980 NBC graduate, Jurgens has been a chef at Gorat’s steakhouse in Omaha for the past 31 years, a restaurant perhaps best know as Warren Buffet’s favorite spot for a steak. Gortat’s is also the place where LeRoy and Barb Bird met when both were employed there in the ‘60s.
David Bird said Jurgens’ three decades of experience at Gorat’s will keep the Rawhide going without missing a beat.

“I certainly have the right person to help me in Brian,” David Bird said. “With his experience at a similar restaurant in Omaha and having ties to North Bend, it couldn’t work out more perfect. ”

As a high schooler in the late ‘70s, Jurgens was one of LeRoy’s first employees at the Rawhide. Now he will return in a much more prominent capacity.

“My dad and Brian both have a similar background,” David Bird said. “He’s just like a younger version of my dad, I guess. A taller version, too.”

Jurgens’ wife Julie will work at the Rawhide bar and manage the dining room. She also brings plenty of experience to the table after working at a bar in Papillion run by her family.

While the Rawhide is closed over the next couple of weeks, new carpeting and wooden flooring will be installed. David said walls will be moved or installed to improve traffic flow for both patrons and the restaurant staff. In a few months, he plans to install some booths and new table tops as well. For his long-range goals, Bird wants to someday look at enlarging the bar area and the kitchen.

However, long-time fans of the Rawhide shouldn’t worry. The majority of the changes to the steakhouse will be physical, while the menu will be left untouched for the most part.

“The menu, as far as the traditional favorites like chicken fried steak and prime rib, I don’t think we’re going to make any changes to that whatsoever,” David Bird said. “We know how dad does it and we’ll keep trying to do it the same way. There might be small changes here and there to the menu, maybe adding some things, but nothing really significant. Our customers have gotten used to a certain way of doing things and they seem to like it.”

While the Rawhide is closed, it will still be accepting reservations for the reopening on Feb. 14 and beyond. An answering machine will be taking calls at the Rawhide’s normal number of 402-652-8500 during construction.

While LeRoy and Barb Bird have worked their final evenings as the Rawhide’s owners, they will still be around to substitute or offer advice to son David and his team.

“I think that will work out real well with what he’s got lined up,” LeRoy Bird said. “Whenever they need help, they can just call. And they know that.”

Sunday afternoon, as he prepared for his final night behind the Rawhide grill, LeRoy was a little nostalgic, but he was looking forward to more free time to fish and play with his grandkids. And he doesn’t plan on suddenly becoming a stranger at the Rawhide either.

“We’ll come in once in a while and have coffee,” LeRoy said as he emptied a large can of corn into a pot on the stove and tightened his apron one last time.

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