It’s safe to say that Western Rib-Eye & Ribs takes care of its customers like it does its employees. It should — most of them are related. The builders and former owners, Harold and Carolyn Nix, are husband and wife. The current owners are their sons, David and Dan Nix. Two of the servers, Linda Miller and Shannon Whitledge, are sisters. Linda Miller’s husband, Gerald, is the bartender, and most of these employees have had children, nephews, and nieces work at the restaurant.
“The Nixes are such wonderful people to work for. We are like a close family,” says Linda Miller, 59, who has worked for the Nixes since 1986.
Being a family owned business makes the dining experience more personal for our customers and employees, says 58-year-old Dan Nix, co-owner of Western Rib-Eye & Ribs, located at 1401 N. Boeke Road. He says because a lot of customers have been eating at Western Rib-Eye for years, they feel like family.
The restaurant’s sense of togetherness began with Dan and David’s parents, Harold and Carolyn Nix. They taught their sons the importance of the restaurant business and passed on a lot of experience and knowledge.
“We learned a lot from mom and dad and although they are out of the business, they are still vital and included in a lot of decisions,” says Dan.
In their fourth decade of restaurant management, the Nix family has seen the restaurant business change in many ways over the years. Dan agrees that in order to adapt, they have to change with it. Because the family has experienced so much in the restaurant industry, they are able to bounce ideas off of one another, Dan says. “At the end of the day, we can look at all the angles, analyze, and decide what the best way is to go.”
Western Rib-Eye & Ribs opened in 1975 with three menu items: ribeye, filet, and lobster, all paired with a baked potato and a trip to the create-your-own salad bar.
“We didn’t even have a deep fryer in the building when we first opened. We couldn’t fry a French fry,” co-owner David remembers.
The Nixes were proud to offer the second restaurant salad bar in the city of Evansville (Andy’s Steak and Barrel, now closed, but in business on U.S.-41 since the 1970s, had the first).
“The salad bar is very signature to us. I always tell people that if we take away the salad bar, you have to take away fried chicken from Colonel Sanders,” jokes David.
Western Rib-Eye prides itself on the freshness of their ingredients as customers load their salads with vegetable toppings. David, 55, says they chop their ingredients so they’re fresh and ready to eat. When comparing fresh vegetables to precut, he says if they are precut, restaurant cooks can’t be sure when they were cut, therefore, they don’t know how long they will last. “It takes away from the freshness. What we cut today is still good tomorrow. Thirty-eight years of experience helps us know how much to do and how much not to do,” adds David.
Since its doors opened on Sept. 3, 1975, Western Rib-Eye & Ribs has upgraded its original menu items to include several types of steaks, fish, chicken, and ribs. David says they added items based on what the industry was doing at the time.
“Some groups might have one person who doesn’t eat meat so we knew we needed to make sure we accommodate anyone and everyone who might walk in,” he says.
Harold and Carolyn Nix have been in the restaurant business for years, even before they built Western Rib-Eye & Ribs. Five years before Western Rib-Eye was built, the Nixes bought Bockelman’s Restaurant, formerly located on Evansville’s West Side. While running that restaurant, the Nixes took on a second business and built Western Rib-Eye & Ribs on North Boeke Road on the East Side. While David Nix ran Western Rib-Eye and Dan Nix took over operations at Bockelman’s, their parents opened up another restaurant, Jacob’s Pub, in the North Park Shopping Complex.
“They all were successful and had great menu items. Bockelman’s was mostly country food — fried chicken, grilled tenderloins, and brain sandwiches were our specialties,” says David. “And Jacob’s Pub was part bar food, part entrees, and sandwiches. We had a bar where we did karaoke on the weekends.”
In 1995, David, Dan, and Harold all made a decision to sell Bockelman’s Restaurant in order to focus their attention on the other two. David says managing all three restaurants simultaneously was a lot of work.
“When you are operating a business, it’s really easy for things to slip away. If you aren’t paying attention to your food and labor prices, before you know it, the food is getting more expensive. There are so many things that take away from the dollar that you get from the customer,” says David.
The Nixes constantly look at what they are purchasing to ensure the best product is delivered to their customers, David says. “It starts and ends with the customer. I have taken things off the menu that I liked because it wasn’t selling. It’s not about me, it’s about my customers,” he says.
By October 2007, the Nixes also sold Jacob’s Pub, then turned around four months later and bought the three local Pizza King restaurants, with locations on the West Side, the East Side, and one in Newburgh.
“Pizza King has been a long standing family operated business in this community just like we are, so not only were we glad to purchase it, but the previous owner was glad a local restaurant owner was taking over,” says David.
Although it’s common for local business owners to support each other, support from the public, specifically new patrons and travelers, is more difficult than it seems.
“When I travel, I ask the person at the hotel where I can find a good, older local restaurant because that’s where I want to go. When other people travel, they go to the obvious places in the high retail areas,” says David.
Regardless of how new customer traffic is affecting local business owners today, Dan is hopeful for what Evansville has in store for their future. He believes Evansville is pushing toward patronizing the independents and recognizing them for giving the community “more than the cookie cutter chains.”
Western Rib-Eye & Ribs recently celebrated the completion of a new exterior makeover, as well as a new logo. The Nix brothers held a ribbon-cutting in mid-January where Mayor Lloyd Winnecke and Christy Gillenwater, President and CEO of the Chamber of Commerce of Southwest Indiana, talked about the importance of local business.
For more information on Western Rib-Eye & Ribs’ restaurant hours, reservations, or menu items, call 812-476-5405 or visit westernribeye.com.