It was 42 years after the first Runza restaurant was established that company President Donald Everett decided it was time to take a step back and recognize the origins of the company.
In 1991, at a price of $280,000, Runza National purchased the building at the northeast corner of 14th and P streets from the Fraternal Order of Eagles. The plan was to decorate the building with 1950s rock ’n’ roll memorabilia and allow for up to 200 patrons to eat in the stylized restaurant.
“It was the only Runza of its kind and is to this day,” said Becky Richter, marketing communications director for Runza.
Sadly, the downtown eatery will be closing its doors for the last time on Dec. 17. Runza’s owners decided the downtown facility was no longer needed because “we don’t need that much space anymore,” Richter said.
The Rock ’N’ Roll Runza was revamped in 1999 and turned into a smaller restaurant, but because the entire building (adjacent to the Lincoln Children’s Museum) was owned by Runza, the company decided to take a chance at the fine dining industry by opening the Flatwater Grill.
“We recognized that the fine dining choices in Lincoln were few and far between, so we wanted to offer that eating environment,” Richter said.
After a few years under the Flatwater Grill moniker, the company realized the market wasn’t there for such a fine dining atmosphere. People came in droves for lunch during the week. But on evenings and weekends, business didn’t do nearly as well. The Flatwater portion of the building was changed into Flatwater Fresh CafÃ© and situated to be more casual.
The idea was eventually to change the restaurant to a Braeda CafÃ©. Since that business also didn’t do as well as expected, the restaurant was eventually closed.
Now the building remains mostly vacant, and with no plans to expand, the executives at Runza decided it was time to call it a day.
One of the bright sides to the story is that every employee at the Rock ’N’ Roll Runza has the option of being reassigned to a different Runza in town so everyone who wants to retain their job will have the opportunity to do so.
Richter said no other closures are expected in the near future.
“It’s important to make sure the members of the Runza family are taken care of,” she said.
And while the Rock ’N’ Roll Runza’s closing is part of a series of changes in Lincoln’s downtown scenery, it won’t stay a vacant building for long.
Richter said the building already has been sold to an unspecified buyer and couldn’t comment on what might be in store for the future of the building.
Polly McMullen, president of the Downtown Lincoln Association, indicated that plans are in the works to keep the 14thand P streets building an important part of the downtown infrastructure.
“Ideas are in the planning stages for the building so that it will serve the downtown area and the university well,” McMullen said. “(The building) will complement other activities happening in the P Street area and will not be in the dark for very long, if at all.”