Commitment to community, taste buds

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Mike with Chef Bob Pummel, checking a detail on orders for CAB ribeyes in The Lumber Yard kitchen.
Mike with Chef Bob Pummel, checking a detail on orders for CAB ribeyes in The Lumber Yard kitchen.

By Kaitlin Morgan

Splinters on the floor, wine in the nail bins and the best Angus steaks in Kansas, that’s The Lumber Yard in

Zenda, Kan., transformed into a restaurant 21 years ago.

In March 2010, when the retired owners had leased it out but business was drying up to only two nights a

week, they approached local Angus rancher Mike Molitor, known for his experience in business and banking. He had

to think about that one.

Molitor spent most of his life raising quality Angus cattle with the consumer in mind, but that didn’t mean he

could take over a restaurant… or did it?

A big deciding factor was that professional chef Bob Pummel would stay on, welcoming the new owner and

proposed upgrades.

From the day he opened the doors on May 18, 2010, Molitor knew he wanted to serve Certified Angus Beef

® (CAB®) brand ribeyes. So that evening they did: a 16-oz. special called Doc’s Ribeye, from his father’s nickname.

They sold out opening night, thawed all they had in the freezer to prepare for the second night, and “haven’t looked

back since.”

“We reopened for lunch, because there’s no other restaurant for 20 miles, and a town needs something like

this to keep it going,” Molitor says.

Licensing with the brand in 2011, he found it all eye-opening, especially the labor force required to do it right

as popularity grew. He has a staff of 30 employees and it will take 18 of them to work one of their 300- customer

Saturday nights. “You need as many people in the kitchen area as out front,” he says.

Pummel no longer has to worry about the steaks he sends out.

“When I’m cutting it I can see the consistent quality in the marbling,” the chef says. “With other product,

you’re holding your breath when that steak goes out, worried about what the customer is going to think. It [CAB]

gives you peace of mind.”

To further ensure consistency, Pummel cuts them all by hand, personally, so that trim and thickness is

uniform. He doesn’t get out of the kitchen much but when he’s cutting up to 200 steaks per week, he can tell sales

are up.

“Our motto has been ‘quality food with quality service’ and that’s the way we run it,” says Molitor. Doc’s

Ribeye is still the top seller in the 2013 total of 5,580 pounds (lb.) of CAB product served.

“This is the only place I go for a good steak,” says Aaron Smith, Attica, Kan., also a bull customer of Molitor

Angus Ranch. “With any other restaurants from here to Wichita, you can fix better at home.”

Fellow cattleman and customer Doug Liebl, Nashville, Kan., says he dines there every other week or so.

“You need reservations on a Saturday and some Fridays,” he says, “and the thing that surprises me is 80% of the

people in there I don’t know.”

Molitor says it’s not uncommon to have folks drive 100 miles just to enjoy a good steak at his restaurant that

serves 800 guests per week, not bad for a town of 90 folks.

With beef prices at an all-time high, The Lumber Yard stays competitive because of volume, Molitor says.

That famous ribeye is on the menu at $23, but Pummel says it would cost at least $30 in big cities.

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