A couple more Steer Burgers to go
Retiring Beef and Barrel owner reflects on last 36 years
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Brian Kilborn is entering his final week as the owner of the Beef and Barrel Restaurant, with the well-known Brandon eatery slated to close its doors for good come Friday evening.
Talking to the Sun over the weekend, the 73-year-old restaurateur was in good spirits as he prepared for his last Saturday dinner service, noting that news of his impending retirement has encouraged hordes of past customers and staff to drop by, have a meal and wish him well.
“A lot of people came back who used to work here, who moved out of town and made a point of coming back just to have a burger or a steak,” he said.
While Kilborn has been running the Beef and Barrel for 36 years now, the restaurant has been operating in the same location on First Street North for more than half a century, having originally opened in 1970 with founder Tom Cowan at the helm.
After John Bass took over the restaurant in 1983, Kilborn and his partner Ron Young purchased it in 1987.
Kilborn became the sole proprietor a year later.
While Kilborn had very little food service experience at that time — having made a living through construction, roofing and working at the now-defunct Western Grocers — he was adamant about maintaining Cowan’s original vision for the Beef and Barrel, where customers could enjoy steaks that were cut and prepared in-house.
“I phoned one of the guys I played ball with, Wayne Hamilton, and I said ‘Wayne, I need to learn how to cut the [sirloin] butts,’” Kilborn recalls.
“So I ordered butts and he came up one night and showed me how to do it. I made a lot of mistakes … it was trial and error.”
Thankfully, Kilborn said his technique got much better over time, with customers gravitating toward his type of food preparation compared to similar Westman restaurants that relied on frozen or pre-packed meat.
“I never believed in having a walk-in freezer. I believe in turning my stock over weekly,” he said.
“That’s how you serve a nice product. That’s always been the way I’ve done it. Always.”
However, when Kilborn looks back on the last three and a half decades of running the Beef and Barrel, his most treasured memories don’t have anything to do with profit margins or serving up the perfect cut of meat.
Instead, the 73-year-old is most proud of the loyal customer base he has managed to cultivate, who have kept the business afloat by coming back year after year, becoming good friends in the process.
Kilborn is also grateful that his family has been so willing to help out with the Beef and Barrel’s day-to-day operations, with his children and grandchildren all pitching in at one time or another.
“We have pictures of them on stools helping to make soups and stuff like that,” he said. “That part has been really gratifying, to see and to watch them grow.”
Kilborn’s daughter Christine even serves at the Beef and Barrel’s current general manager, using her knowledge of working in the restaurant as a teenager to keep everything running smoothly in the present day.
“We still have all our fresh soups and dressings and fresh meat. Our burgers are straight sirloin,” Christine said on Saturday.
“We’ve always done everything right from scratch and we’ve never changed that in 36 years.”
Of course, Kilborn and his staff have endured their fair share of challenges throughout this time.
Outside of constantly being at the mercy of inflation and fluctuating meat prices, Kilborn’s business has also been subjected to break-ins, vandalism and extreme Prairie weather, with the building getting flooded with more than a foot and a half of water following a period of heavy rain in 2005.
And like most small businesses, the Beef and Barrel underwent several shutdowns during the early stages of the COVID-19 pandemic, although Kilborn and his team managed to survive by providing takeout services.
However, the physical strain of cutting the meat every day eventually caught up with Kilborn, encouraging him to finally retire and enjoy his golden years by golfing and spending time at his family cabin at Silver Beach Lake.
“I’ve been thinking about this for a year or so. It’s time I get out of here. Thirty-six years is enough,” he said. “My wrists have worn out.”
Even though the end is near, Kilborn and his team are looking to wrap everything up on a positive note, organizing a “Final Steer Burger” event for Friday where customers can pick up a free burger, pop or bottle of water and make a donation to Westman Dreams for Kids.
“We thought we would do something nice, give back to Brandon, give back to Westman and finish it off with some donations,” Christine said. “I think it’s a great way to go.”
After Friday, the Beef and Barrel’s various assets will be auctioned off throughout April, while the land and building has already been sold to Crane Steel Structures, which plans to demolish the restaurant at some point in the future.
While it will be sad to see this Brandon landmark go, Kilborn is proud that the Beef and Barrel has been a consistent part of so many people’s lives over the past half-century, even serving as the catalyst for serious relationships that evolved into a full family unit.
“We’ve had couples come in and have their first date here,” he said. “And over the years they’ve brought in their children and their kids remember. So it’s been good that way.”
» Twitter: @KyleDarbyson