By Randy Arrington
LURAY, Oct. 28 — Neil Custer has fond memories of a family steakhouse on the eastern slope of the Massanutten mountain range at the foot of the George Washington National Forest.
“My parents brought my brother and I here nearly every Saturday night,” Custer told a small crowd gathered in the new bar room of Dan’s Steakhouse. “So, this is kinda sentimental for me now.”
In the midst of a pandemic, Custer heard that one of his favorite places to eat was up for sale. While he “always thought it would be great” to own the steakhouse, he also thought finances would be a barrier he couldn’t overcome. When his father and some financing made it possible, he jumped at the chance to reopen the popular spot that had been dormant for several months.
In October of 2021, Custer reopened the steakhouse after completing the purchase from longtime former owners Christie Baker and her late husband Jerry.
“I love hearing people say ‘this is the best steak I’ve had in a while,'” the new owner of Dan’s said last Friday. “Local business has been great, and of course we’re getting a lot of tourists right now…one person said we were recommended by someone on a trail ride.”
Supporters, staff and local officials gathered on Friday, Oct. 28 for a ribbon cutting ceremony hosted by the Luray-Page County Chamber of Commerce. The event was rescheduled from earlier in the month, which was closer to the one-year anniversary date for the new owners who took over on Oct. 16, 2021.
“My family used to come up here a lot too,” District 2 supervisor Allen Louderback said, sharing a story about bringing visitors to the area there. “It was always packed, always good food, and we need restaurants desperately around here, so we’re glad you’re here. But the folks we brought were so impressed with this two-and-a-half-pound steak…they thought it was unbelievable…so it’s important to have a signature steak.”
That would be the Tomahawk — and the 50-ounce ribeye still on the bone buries the former signature steak in terms of girth and pure challenge to the consumer. The bone itself weighs 11 ounces.
Dan’s cuts all of its own steaks and offers seven selections for diners, to go along with sides and salads, seven appetizers to choose from and eight choices for dessert. Beverages include adult choices served from a wooden bar that Custer built himself. The new bar room occasionally includes local live music and karaoke.
Custer said most of the renovations took place in the kitchen, but he also put down new flooring and purchased some new equipment before reopening last fall.
The original building was constructed in 1949, with several additions tacked on over the years. The restaurant has had at least three other names, but has gone by “Dan’s Steakhouse” for several decades. One of the previous owners, Gene Sisson, had the business for many years before selling to Earl Vaught, who later sold to the Bakers. The Bakers had the restaurant for 20-plus years. Sisson ran a Dan’s Steakhouse in both Luray and Front Royal before changing the Front Royal location to “Dean’s” later on. The new owners would like to know more about the history of the site, and ask that anyone in the community that may have that information reach out to them.
Custer’s partner, Kathy Campbell, will help manage the business, which will include renting out three Airbnb cottages that are on the property. Campbell, a real estate broker in Culpeper, said that four-bedroom, two-bedroom, and one-bedroom options are available. The property includes 17 acres adjacent to the national forest.
Custer said his 18-month effort to get the tourist hot spot and operate it efficiently over the past year has been constantly setback by a struggle with staffing. He stated that he went through “75 people” or more trying to keep help in the busy restaurant that has served up to 1,000 meals in a week.
Things are going well now, as “leaf peepers” are in full stride traveling up and down Route 211. Custer hopes to negotiate with a food truck to serve breakfast at the site, and potentially extend lunch offerings and entertainment in the bar room.
“It’s been great,” Custer said on Friday of traffic at his new restaurant. “It’s been kinda like a dream come true.”
Dan’s Steakhouse is located at 8512 US Hwy 211 West, Luray, Va. Dan’s is open seven days a week, and they have added lunch Friday through Sunday. They open from 4 to 8:30 p.m. Monday through Thursday.
For more information, give them a call at (540) 743-6285…