“I hope that sparks someone to purchase it,” Branding Iron owner Steve Bahl said about his recent decision to announce a closing date for his restaurant. Bahl has owned the Branding Iron since 1989, and while he has enjoyed his time at the restaurant, he and his wife Allyson are ready for a change.
The Branding Iron was built in 1970 by a group of businessmen who made up the Preston Development Corporation. They felt that Preston needed a supper club type restaurant as it didn’t have one at the time. A few years later, Harlowe Ibach and David Joerg purchased the Branding Iron and from there changed hands several more times.
Steve Bahl’s family moved to Preston in 1969 when he was 13 years old. When he was 15, he began working at the Branding Iron bussing tables. After graduating high school, he was offered the chance to start cooking in the kitchen and a few years later, was promoted to head cook. “I always thought that if I ever had the chance to buy this, I would be interested,” Bahl said. After working at the Branding Iron for 18 years, he finally got his chance in 1989 when the restaurant was put up for sale. He purchased the Branding Iron with silent partners Mike Merritt, Jeff Wand, and his dad, Richard Bahl. Just a few years ago, Bahl and his father bought out Merritt and Wand and became the sole owners.
Bahl and his wife Allyson have four children, all grown and moved away now, who worked at the Branding Iron when they were in high school. In addition, Allyson has always helped out whenever needed at the restaurant as well as working for Mayo Clinic in Rochester. Bahl has enjoyed being able to spend time with his family throughout his ownership of the Branding Iron, but both he and Allyson feel that it’s time for something new and a change of pace after 47 years there. They listed the Branding Iron for sale two years ago and although they’ve had some interest, it hasn’t sold yet. Rather than continue on with things up in the air, they made the difficult decision to set an official closing date. Bahl was hoping that the announcement would spark some interest in the Branding Iron and it did. “My hope is that someone takes it over rather than just close it down permanently,” he said, adding that he has already received a few inquiries since making the announcement on December 12.
Bahl has a lot of good memories from his 47 years at the Branding Iron that he will treasure. One of his favorite things was being able to work with his four kids, and he has also enjoyed meeting people from all over who have come to eat at the restaurant. The staff throughout the years has been wonderful to work with, and Bahl has enjoyed getting to know them all. His employees are a big part of the reason why he is hoping that someone will buy the Branding Iron and keep it going. “I don’t want them to have to find jobs elsewhere,” he said.
When Bahl called a staff meeting to announce that the Branding Iron was closing, it didn’t come as a shock to anyone. He had been open with his employees about the fact that he was trying to sell the restaurant, and so they were not surprised at the news. Allyson wrote an official announcement for the public and posted it on the Branding Iron’s Facebook page, where it has been shared over 1,200 times. Bahl was amazed at the comments and well wishes that he has received since then. “It’s a little overwhelming,” Bahl said.
Since announcing the closing of the Branding Iron, Bahl has been stunned by the outpouring of support from the community. The weekend after setting the closing date was the busiest the restaurant has ever been. “It’s been crazy busy. Friday, Saturday, Sunday were like New Year’s Eve,” Bahl commented. “We ran out of food.” He plans to run specials during the Branding Iron’s last week of business to cut down on the inventory and possibly even have some entertainment on the final day. Until then, it’s business as usual. While the Branding Iron will be closed on New Year’s Day, it will still be open from 11 am to 8:30 p.m. on New Year’s Eve with reservations recommended.
“My mom and dad and Allyson and I want to thank this community and all the surrounding customers who have come up here,” Bahl said. “We want to thank them for their business, and it was much appreciated.” Bahl will miss the Branding Iron, but is also looking forward to a change in pace from being a busy restaurant owner. He and Allyson are planning to move to Rochester and are also hoping to spend some time in Phoenix, where one of their sons lives.