While Tia and Dave Mentzer only became owners of the Wooden Windmill around a year ago, the longtime local restaurant has been an integral part of their lives for decades.
Dave, who still serves as head cook, began working at the restaurant a mere six months after it first opened in 1980, while Tia began started as a waitress back in 1995.
“We both actually worked for the original owners,” Tia Mentzer said. “So we’ve got over 60 years between us.”
Not only has their employment at Wooden Windmill blossomed into ownership, it also led to the blossoming of their own relationship.
“We met here and we started dating after I had been here about a year,” Mentzer said. “One thing led to another and we’ve been together ever since.”
After working under several different owners at Wooden Windmill throughout the years, when the opportunity to buy the restaurant presented itself last November — they jumped.
“He gave us an offer we couldn’t refuse — so we did it,” Mentzer said.
Since taking over at Wooden Windmill the Mentzers have begun renovations to the building, which was originally built and opened as The Safari in 1961.
“We repainted the outside and got the windmill all restored and refinished, new carpeting, change a bit of the motif,” Mentzer said. “Just little things to upgrade the place.”
Along with renovations to the building, the Wooden Windmill’s newest owners have also added a Keno operation and are currently in the process of paring down the menu to make it a little less overwhelming for customers.
“Right now it’s so big, so we’re going to pare it down a little bit and switch some things up like adding a kids menu and changing our special drink menu,” Mentzer said.
They have also equipped the restaurant’s backroom into a meeting space that organizations and events can rent out.
“We’ve made it meeting accessible with a projector and screen and big TV, microphones, speakers,” she said. “So you have everything you need to hold a meeting in here, too.”
Mentzer says they also plan to redecorate the back room into a Husker themed space in the near future.
“We want to take it back to the family style restaurant that it used to be,” Mentzer said. “We want families to feel comfortable bringing their kids in for a good meal in a welcoming setting.”
While they are putting their own stamp on the restaurant, which serves as a local landmark of sorts, they are still holding true to some of the traditions that have made the Wooden Windmill what it is over the past 38 years.
“We just want to keep the place rocking,” Mentzer said.
They still specialize in serving up a variety of American classics —prime rib, steak, and burgers — as well as Mexican food and BBQ.
“We always try to feature a really nice steak special on Friday for $10.99 so you can’t really go wrong there,” Mentzer said.
They also offer a specialty buffet weekly.
“We just had a Cajun buffet and we always have a big steak buffet for one of the Husker games each year,” Mentzer said.
This year’s steak buffet will take place during the Huskers game against Ohio State on November 3rd.
Another popular event that the Mentzers have kept up in taking over the business is Big Red Luncheon which takes place every Thursday during the Husker football season.
Along with a buffet and plenty of drink specials, the weekly Big Red Luncheon features Lincoln Journal Star sports columnist Steven M. Sipple and Big Red Wrap-Up’s Sean Callahan in person to talk about that week’s upcoming matchup.
“Those are a big thing every fall,” Mentzer said. “They both love coming here and doing it because they have such a good fanbase here.”
They’ve also held true to aspects of the business that have made it unique — even opening up the bottom of the windmill as a dining area and keeping the wishing well running for patrons to enjoy.
“Back when my kids were just itty bitty before I even worked here, they used to say, mom let’s go to the windmill we want to make ‘witches’,” Mentzer said. “They would get so excited they couldn’t even say wishes—and now my grandkids come in and make “witches” too.”
For the Mentzers running, and now owning, the Wooden Windmill is truly a labor of love. With so many years of their lives — and memories— wrapped up in the restaurant they are in it for the long haul.
“When I die they are going to take some of my ashes and put it in that little well in there and I’m going to circulate through this place,” Mentzer said. “So I’m never leaving.”