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Kearney restaurant closing after 23 years
By TYLER ELLYSON
KEARNEY – The timing is right for Ty Strawhecker to leave the barbecue business.
The owner of Luke & Jake’s Bar-B-Q is closing his restaurant and catering business July 31, ending a 23-year run in Kearney.
“It will be a pretty big shocker for a lot of people,” Strawhecker said of the decision, which he shared Sunday with employees. “An opportunity arose and we decided to act on it.”
Strawhecker, who opened Luke & Jake’s in August 1995 and moved the business to its current location two years later, is selling the 807 W. 25th St. property to the University of Nebraska at Kearney. Luke & Jake’s is located on the east edge of the UNK campus in an area that will undergo significant changes next year.
The $380,050 purchase is up for approval by the University of Nebraska Board of Regents at its June 28 meeting. The sale will be finalized at a later date. Funding for the east entrance project was approved in May 2017, prior to the university-wide budget cuts ordered by the Nebraska Legislature. That money, up to $1.75 million, cannot be reallocated for other purposes. The Luke & Jake’s property will be purchased with this funding.
Jon Watts, vice chancellor for business and finance at UNK, said the property acquisition makes strategic sense for the university as it moves forward with a project that will enhance the east entrance to campus.
“The university is not actively looking to acquire properties, but in the general course of business adjacent property owners do reach out to the university to see if we’re interested,” Watts said.
The Nebraska Department of Transportation and City of Kearney are planning a project along U.S. Highway 30 between Seventh and 12th avenues to make that stretch of road safer for motorists and pedestrians. This includes altering the Ninth Avenue intersection by eliminating left turns onto eastbound Highway 30.
“You don’t have to watch this intersection very long to see that it really confuses people,” Watts said.
UNK has its own project planned for next summer to create a main entrance on the east side of campus.
The project, which was outlined in the 2006-15 campus master plan, will transform the area near Warner Hall into a “front door” that welcomes students and visitors to UNK.
A monument sign matching the one along Highway 30 on the west side of campus, pillars and a circular drop-off/pick-up area in front of Warner Hall will be added, along with landscaping improvements. Watts hopes to see that work begin after next year’s spring commencement. The admissions office will eventually be relocated to Warner Hall.
UNK officials will evaluate the Luke & Jake’s building before determining its future.
“If it doesn’t have a university use, we’ll eventually take that building down,” Watts said.
“We’ll work with the owner to make sure we facilitate a smooth transition that takes care of his customers and respects that Luke & Jake’s has been a staple of this community for more than two decades,” added Watts, who called Strawhecker a longtime friend of UNK.
Strawhecker, whose wife Jane is a professor and assistant chair in the UNK Department of Teacher Education, said the university has been a good neighbor and strong supporter of his business. He also thanked his family, which includes three sons and in-laws Earl and JoAnn Rademacher, and customers for their support over the years.
“Kearney and the surrounding communities have been really good to us,” he said.
Strawhecker emphasized that he and his wife are not retiring – she’ll remain at UNK – but he’s ready to move on from the business.
“It’s just good timing,” he said.