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The iconic longhorn sign looms high overhead, touting this week’s specials.
Inside, the smell of savory foods fills the air as waitresses serve plates of flavorful prime rib, tender steaks and broasted chicken. A line forms at the stainless steel salad bar which lights up the center of the room.
This is the L-Bar-B Steakhouse.
After more than 35 years of turning the steakhouse into Clearwater’s landmark restaurant, Francis and Rilla Hanzlik are calling it a career.
The Hanzliks officially sold the L-Bar-B to Jim Swails on Thursday.
A Ewing-native, Swails said the L-Bar-B name, menu, hours and phone number will remain the same. All of the staff were offered the option to stay as well.
“It wasn’t broke, so why fix it?” he asked rhetorically.
Swails, who will reside in Clearwater, is a Scottsdale Culinary Institute graduate and has been in the restaurant business for about 15 years.
“I’ve worked at different resorts, country clubs, breweries, fine dining, mom and pop places to get knowledge for my career,” he said.
In his 30s, Swails started out as a prep cook, working his way up to sous chef and then chef in just three years.
When he was back visiting his mom in Ewing about a year ago, he contacted Francis about the possibility of purchasing the L-Bar-B. Hanzlik told him he was willing to consider it when he was ready to retire and the rest is history.
The L-Bar-B’s full story dates back to the 1960s when Bill Gibbs and Lowell Jensen first opened the restaurant by the same name. Hanzlik said he’s not certain, but the brother-in-law proprietors may have used Lionel Bartak’s L-Bar-B Ranch as inspiration for the name. There have been several owners in between, including Don Sohl and Don and Shirley Mack, but none as consistent as Francis and Rilla Hanzlik. The Hanzliks opened the L-Bar-B on June 23, 1982, exactly one year from the day the Macks had closed it.
“We were driving by here on our way to see Rilla’s mom in O’Neill and saw a ‘For Sale’ sign,” Hanzlik recalled. He contacted the realtor on the sign, tracked down the owners and they revived the restaurant.
Hanzlik had worked in the restaurant industry since he was a 13-year-old in Pilger.
“I started working at Geno’s El Rancho in Pilger at 13 and worked there until I was 25,” he said.
“I started as kitchen help and started cooking at 15. I took over the head cook job when I was a senior in high school.”
Before moving to Clearwater in 1983, the Hanzliks lived in Columbus and Francis worked in a packing house in Schuyler. So it’s not surprising that he knows a good cut of meat.
“When I worked at the steakhouse in Pilger we cut all our own steaks there too,” Hanzlik said. “I grew up with an individual who mentored me. Everything I’ve learned is from hands-on doing it.”
His L-Bar-B customers have always appreciated the attention to top-quality products.
“I buy all choice stuff,” he said. “People like the reasonable prices and good food. People out in rural areas are meat and potatoes people.”
Although different customers have different favorites, the most popular comment he has heard lately is actually salad-related.
“The one thing everyone is telling me is, ‘You’ve gotta leave your bleu cheese dressing recipe,’” he said.
Hanzlik said he took pride in knowing that many of his customers drove “30, 40 maybe even 50 miles to the steakhouse because it was someone’s birthday or anniversary.” He said there were many loyal customers over the years, including two couples from Albion that make the trek to the L-Bar-B every week.
“I’m going to miss people coming back into the kitchen and saying, ‘It was great!’” Hanzlik said as he choked up. “I guess I can’t count the number of people who have come back into the kitchen and have said, ‘You can’t do this to us.’”
Although he was emotional talking about his customers, he is thankful they found a buyer who will continue the L-Bar-B restaurant in Clearwater.
“You see so many times the door gets locked and doesn’t get opened back up and nobody comes back in,” Hanzlik said. “Any business you have in a small town makes a big difference.
We’ve been running anywhere from 15 to 18 employees, not all of them full-time, but that makes a difference in our area.”
He and Rilla are helping with the transition and will be working with Swails and his son Robert, the lead line cook, through the weekend. After that, Hanzlik doesn’t know what retirement will bring.
“I guess I don’t know what I’ll do with my time,” he said as his eyes welled and a tear trickled down his cheek. “Right now, I basically don’t have a day that I don’t have to do something. Even though we’re closed Mondays, you still have bookwork, sales people, deliveries, so if you can get away after dinner, you have one afternoon and night that you can do something. Only three times in 35 years that we’ve had six days off.”
Swails said he appreciates the Hanzliks helping him through the transition period and he enjoyed the change of pace on his first night as the owner of the L-Bar-B.
“I’m used to 500-600 people a night within an hour or two,” Swails said. “It’s a different atmosphere. The people are a heck of a lot friendlier. I will tell you that. And patient. There’s a difference. I forgot what it was like here, compared to a city.”
Clearwater announced its honor roll for the first quarter of the 2018-19 school year.
Principal’s Honor Roll
Front row (l-r): Kelsey Schlecht, Adyson Mlnarik, Aislynn Kester and Christian Behnk
Second row: Julia Thiele, Taylor Sanne, Faith King
Back row: Jacob Long, Zach King, James Kester, Jacob Behnk
Front row (l-r): Katie Stearns, Eli Thiele, Dillon Moser, Jesse Thiele, Dylon Lueking, Alex Thiele, Joe Ahlers
Second row: Hunter Klabenes, Morgan Erhardt, Cassidy Bearinger, Harper Klabenes, Madison Kester, Rafe Grebin, Colby Hupp
Back row: Taylor Ann Bolling, Tyler Hupp, Jackie Olivan, Emily Ahlers, Lena Bolling, Taylor Rose Bolling, Kierra Bearinger, Lauren Behnk
Not pictured: Bryna Umphress
Clearwater celebrated Homecoming with Orchard last week.
Along with crowning the 2018 King and Queen, Zach King and Katie Stearns, students showed their school spirit by parading around Orchard, followed by games for the elementary students and a dodgeball tournament.
The top classes in the sign contest were the seventh grade class in third place, the junior class in second and the senior class in first.
The sophomore class came out on top with their parade float, followed by the eighth grade class in second.
Winning the dodgeball tournament was the senior class, barely scraping by the freshmen class.
The overall school spirit points winner was the senior class.
Julia Thiele, a senior at Clearwater High School, is one of the 48 finalists in the state for Believers and Achievers who will be honored this school year.
The U.S. Bank® and the Nebraska School Activities Association (NSAA) announced the 2018-2019 Believers and Achievers this week. Beginning in October and continuing through March, 48 Nebraska high school seniors will be honored as Believers & Achievers.
From those 48 finalists, eight will receive $500 scholarships from U.S. Bank® to the college or university of their choice at a scholarship banquet to be held on April 28, 2019. These students will be recognized at NSAA State Championships throughout the 2018-19 activities year and on posters sent to all NSAA member schools and U.S. Bank® branches throughout the state. All of the students nominated for the Believers & Achievers awards program represent the very best of Nebraska’s high schools.
The 48 finalists and their high schools are:
Benjamin Arens, Ainsworth
Katie Bathke, Allen
Leighton Bubak, Arnold
Kyla Wykert, Arthur County
Trevor Cumpston, Aurora
Lane Bertrand, Axtell
Michaela Bartels, Bennington
Elijah Vedral, Bishop Neumann
Brianna Danehey, Blue Hill
Sydney Atkinson, Boyd County
Kalen Dockweiler, Callaway
Grace McDonald, Centura
Julia Thiele, Clearwater
Elizabeth Blaser, Columbus
Alex Lamoureux, Conestoga
Ashtyn Fritz, Creighton
Tristan Larson, Doniphan-Trumbull
Megan Raszler, Elkhorn
Michael Kelly, Elkhorn South
Franklin Fields, Falls City
Avery Decker, Fremont
Kylee Sodomka, Grand Island
Seerat Balraj, Grand Island Central Catholic
Liby Lange, Hartington-Newcastle
Grace Kanel, Humboldt-Table Rock - Steinauer
Lorna Maxon, Laurel-Concord-Coleridge
Edvin Ramierez Carrillo, Lexington
Danielle Higgins, Leyton
Jaden Ferguson, Lincoln Southwest
Olivia O'Clair, Loomis
Paige Wood, Maywood
Aubrey Schultis, McPherson County
Brianna Barton, Meridian
Logan Hoover, Nebraska City
Whitney Jensen, Northwest
Amanda Zhang, Omaha Brownell-Talbot
Emma Hansen, Omaha North
Madigan Brodsky, Omaha Westside
Leah Palensky, Papillion-LaVista
South Ali Ebada, Ralston
Kasey Brabec, Schuyler
Jatin Cranmore, Scottsbluff
Rebekah Klenke, Seward
Luryn Hendrickson, Shelton
Allison Nesbitt, Sidney
Malayna Wingert, Sterling
Jarod Hergott, Thayer Central
Leighton Mlady, West Holt
U.S. Bank® and the Nebraska School Activities Association are proud to announce the 2018-19 local school winners of the Believers and Achievers award. Every member school is able to submit two senior students for recognition in this awards program.
Jacob Long and Julia Thiele been chosen to represent Clearwater. The announcement of the 48 statewide winners of the U.S. Bank® Believers & Achievers award will be announced by the NSAA at a later date.
The Clearwater homecoming candidates and court have been announced.
Candidates for king are Chris Kester, Zach King, Jake Long, Austin Pokorny and Clay Thiele. Queen candidates are Taylor Sanne, Katie Stearns and Julia Thiele.
Members of the court are first-grade crown bearers Grace Ahlers and Wyatt Bolling; freshmen attendants Cassidy Bearinger and Ty Rix; sophomores Elly Herley and Rafe Grebin and juniors Taylor Rose Bolling and Tyler Hupp.
The annual homecoming parade will start at 1 p.m. on Friday, Oct. 5 and the dance is set for Saturday, Oct. 6.
Northeast Nebraska Telephone Company Director Omer Hoffman of Clearwater will officially retire from the NNTC Board of Directors after serving as a board member for nearly 60 years.
According to NNTC, it all started because Hoffman wanted a telephone in his home. In the late 1950s, Hoffman, along with Joe Knievel and Maynard Sterns, worked to raise $27,000 with the goal of bringing dial telephones to their area. They went door-to-door asking residents in Clearwater and Bartlett to donate $30 with the promise of a phone.
The men raised the money needed to get a government loan which allowed them to buy into Northeast Nebraska Telephone Company. NNTC had just been established in Jackson in 1957. Clearwater and Bartlett joined the company in 1958. From there Hoffman was hooked. Once he established phone service in his area, he stayed on the Board of Directors for six more decades.
“I wanted to go off the board the last time and they insisted that I stay on, but do you realize that I’d be 100 years old when I got off the board,” he joked.
The 97-year-old rancher has spent two-thirds of his life advocating for telecommunication service in rural Nebraska. He said the biggest change over the years was the addition of providing internet services.
“Can you imagine the old ringer phones up until now? It’s all electronic age so you wonder where it’s going, “ Hoffman said.
Hoffman has been driving from Clearwater to Jackson to attend meetings for the company for decades. He estimates he has spent three years of his life in total, attending meetings and volunteering for NNTC.
“If you live in an area, you should do something to help support the area. We’ve got volunteer firemen, school board members. This was an opportunity for me to be doing something. And I was glad to give back and to get a phone!” Hoffman said.
Omer Hoffman will be recognized for his contributions at NNTC’s annual membership meeting on Thursday, Sept. 13 at the NNTC facilities in Jackson.