History records and explains past events, while folklore preserves what people widely remember.
History and Folklore!
What do Bob Buhl, Warren Spahn, Lou Burdette, Johnny Logan, Eddie Mathews and Bob Lombardo have in common? Well, they loved to play baseball, and all of them except Bob Lombardo played professionally with the Milwaukee Braves. More interestingly, they all spent an afternoon at the Steakout restaurant talking baseball, just like they were in the dugout at County Stadium. Bob Lombardo was there by virtue of working that day. The Braves were there because several of the players on the team lived in Greendale, and they spread the word that it was a friendly neighborhood restaurant with great food (See Week#69). These Milwaukee Braves were my boyhood heroes, so I’m very envious of Bob.
But let’s back up to the beginning. I visited with Bob Lombard recently and talked with him about growing up in Greendale. We also talked about the Steakout restaurant that he has worked in since he was 16 years old and now owns. Bob was born in December of 1963 and grew up in the ‘M’ section of Greendale, the son of George and Gloria Lombardo. He has an older brother Jim and two older sisters, Sandy and Judy. He remembers the fun they had walking down to the Village, going into Grebe’s Bakery and Vielie’s Drug Store. Baseball was his passion and he and his friends would play ‘strikeout’ behind Ambruster Grade School. Playing for 27 innings was common (editor’s note: not sure how this game is played but 27 innings seems like a lot). He did tell me the right field fence was 68th Street. I wonder how many cars they hit while playing their games?
In 1974 Bob was playing Twi-Nite baseball on a team sponsored by Henry’s A&W. He remembers his team beat a team sponsored by the Villa Green restaurant. Villa Green was the restaurant built in the 1960’s at the intersection of Loomis Road and College Avenue. In 1976 it became Francesca’s Villa Green, and in 1986 the Steakout restaurant.
Going back to the Twi-Nite baseball, as an added bit of trivia Bob’s coach was Roy Reiman. After all these years he and Roy still banter about Bob’s playing days. Roy says he’s not a pitcher, and Bob protests that he pitched very well thank you.
Bob’s sister was working at Francesca’s and in 1976 got Bob a job working there when he was 16 years old. Befitting any good rags to riches story, he started in the kitchen washing dishes. That did not last long because after one day he was promoted to bus boy and since then has never looked back. However, to this day he still remembers the smell and the chore of cleaning burnt cheese and sauce from the pans. I do find it heartwarming to learn that now as the owner he’s back washing dishes at times. I guess if you own it, you have to clean it.
But I’ve skipped too far ahead in this story. In the early 80’s Bob did everything at the restaurant. He tended bar, waited tables, stayed and cleaned up after closing. One funny story he told me was that as an 18 year old and still in High School, he would tend bar for his teachers. He had to call them by their first name. That must have been strange. He was dedicated to the Francesca’s and the restaurant. So much so that when Dean Laplant bought the restaurant in 1986 Bob quit because he was so upset. Fortunately for all of us who frequent the Steakout, he came back a month later. It was Dean who mentored Bob and helped him become the fantastic open fire cook we know today. In 2004 after Dean had already moved to Arizona, Bob purchased the restaurant from him.
The restaurant business is a tough business. The failure rate is astronomical. Amazingly there has been a neighborhood restaurant on the southwest corner of Loomis Road and College Avenue for over 50 years. For the last 25 of those years the Steakout restaurant has anchored that corner. Why the success? I asked Bob Lombardo that question. He said, first “If you don’t have good food you have nothing.” Then he added, “It’s about being good people and making it a personal business.” He said he and his staff know 80% of their customers by name. He prides himself as being a ‘neighborhood steakhouse’ and that’s all he wants to be. He doesn’t advertise, keeps things mostly the same, and relies on word of mouth for new customers. That formula has worked for over 50 years, why change it.
I asked Bob what he is most proud of with the Steakout restaurant. He said he has employed a lot of Greendale kids over the years, and at least eight of them have worked part time starting in high school and continuing on until graduating from college. That is what he is most proud of. These kids, now adults, still come by to visit. It doesn’t get any better than that.
Finally, Bob laughs about the fact that he has been doing a ‘live’ cooking show for 20 years, long before they started showing up on TV. He is still the main cook at his restaurant, and a magician on the open fire grill. If you watch him he doesn’t time anything. He has multiple entrees on the grill at the same time, with multiple start times and being cooked to order for each customer. Yet he somehow manages to get them right. That takes skill. I know I could single handedly ruin his business if he assigned that grill job to me for only two weeks. I call him the ‘Edward Scissorhands of Greendale’. He does this all with cooking thongs which have become the extension of his hands. Check it out, you’ll see what I mean.
(Year the Lombardo kids graduated from Greendale High School: Jim-1970, Sandy-1973, Judy-1976, Bob-1982)
But did you know?
The Red Barn Hostel was a destination for youths from around the world for many years. Bob Lombardo remembers them coming into the restaurant asking for directions. He remembers kids saying they were from Australia, Canada, and many European countries, as well as the US. The hostel was a little hard to find because during the summer all the trees surrounding it made it hard to see. Heading south the entrance is directly past the turn onto the Root River Parkway on the west side of Loomis Road. There is a very small house next to the driveway, and then off to the right is a big red barn. And I do mean big. I’d love to see the inside, and how it accommodated all the overnight visitors. Unfortunately, it has been closed since sometime before 2002. Maybe someone in Greendale knows more about the time when it was open and can share some memories with us.
Also, there is a silo on the property next to the barn. So that makes three properties that still have a silo in Greendale (See Week#41).
People, Past & Present!
At the beginning of this week’s story I dropped some names of sports figures who have visited the Steakout. On the walls of the restaurant there are pictures of quite a few more. Besides the aforementioned Bob Buhl, Warren Spahn, Lou Burdette, Johnny Logan, and Eddie Mathews you’ll see: Bob Lanier, Robin Yount, Charlie Moore, Don Money, Jim Gantner, B.J. Surhoff, Dale Ellis, Ray Nitschke, and Jake O’Donnell. The Steakout may be a favorite restaurant for neighbors, but a place with great food and friendly service is hard to keep a secret.
Greendale Trivia Question and Answer:
Week#41 Answer courtesy of Matt Murdaugh – “There are 3 sites in Greendale on the National Registry of Historic Places, Trimborn Farm, Jeremiah Curtin House, and the Greendale Historic District.” Trimborn Farm was placed on the registry 7/31/80, Jeremiah Curtin 11/7/72, and the Greendale Historic District 7/29/05. Additionally, on October 17, 2012 the Department of the Interior announced that the Greendale Historic District has been designated a National Historic Landmark.
Week#40 Question – We’ve talked about Trimborn Farm’s beginnings in the 1840’s as a lime kiln industry. It was also a working farm, and later part of the farm was used as an airstrip. Can anyone remember one other use the farm had from approximately 1945 to 1979?
** Week #40 contributors Sally Chadwick, Bob Lombardo, Dave Bauer, Greendale Historical Society, Wikipedia.