Steve and Scott Raithel continue serving family recipes, just the way grandma made them.
Steve Raithel and his younger brother, Scott, grew up in the restaurant business. Their father — Norvin “Nick” Raithel — opened the first Nick’s Homestead on South Ridge Drive in 1969. Inspired by the food and the family-style atmosphere of another local restaurant, their father bought his grandmother’s old house and converted it into a restaurant, following it up in 1991 with a Nick’s Homestead in Hartsburg.
All of their restaurant recipes came from Grandma. “She started [cooking for us] in 1969 because dad never knew how to cook. She taught him how to cook fried chicken, how to make potatoes and gravy, green beans, and fry Burgers’ ham,” Steve says.
The minute Steve and Scott were old enough to work, the restaurant became a second home. “It made me a person who isn’t lazy and goes out and gets things done. Growing up in the business made me a better person,” Scott says.
Steve is now the owner of Steve’s Family Style Restaurant in Lohman. His younger brother, Scott, owns Nick’s Family Restaurant on the east side of Jefferson City.
“I told my Dad one time in the restaurant, ‘I think you’re going to die frying chicken,’” Scott says. Nick passed away at the age of 69 after working a Sunday shift at his restaurant. But his legacy — and the recipes — live on through his sons.
Dining at a family-style restaurant is a private all-you-can-eat buffet at your table, featuring signature pan-fried chicken, ham, fish, or a combination served to all guests at the table with plentiful helpings of mashed potatoes, coleslaw, green beans, applesauce, bread, and butter, as well as ice cream and soft drinks. Plated options are available for guests, too.
“There’s a difference between pan-fried chicken and deep-fried chicken. Dad started out with a 12-inch skillet, and he’d start to pan fry when someone came through the door. He said, ‘You don’t fry chicken until you can see the whites of [the customer’s] eyes,’” Steve explains.
The size of the skillets may have changed, but the recipe for the chicken hasn’t. That consistency still brings crowds through the doors.
“It’s all marinated chicken. The seasoning isn’t in the flour because if you put the seasoning in the flour, it just falls off. You have to marinate (the chicken) like a steak. But we don’t have any secret ingredient. It’s just the way grandmother did it. You put salt and pepper on it.”
The tradition, along with a belief in good, quality food made fresh, has kept the family’s restaurants staples of Jefferson City for nearly 30 years.
“We know how to do it, and we do it right,” Steve says.
Steve’s Family Restaurant
When Steve was ready to take on a restaurant of his own nearly 30 years ago, he opened Steve’s Family Style Restaurant in Loose Creek. But with much success came some growing pains, and when Steve came across the perfect new property in Lohman, he opened at his current location on May 1, 2002.
Steve values family on top of everything and designed a dining option around his philosophy that “a family that eats together stays together.” Their carry out special — Food for Four — ensures families can enjoy a home-cooked meal together. Steve sells a dozen pieces of fried chicken or fried catfish that are dropped in the pan-fryer when you call ahead, with sides of mashed potatoes, green beans, and bread.
“The green beans are seasoned with Burgers’ country ham hocks, seasoning, and onions. We’ve got a milk gravy that is out of this world. It’s one of our best sellers. It’s a brown gravy, but it’s thicker — like a darker, cream gravy.”
Steve gets his ham from local ham producer Burgers’ Smokehouse, and he won’t serve any other brand. That’s the way his father did it.
The staff is a part of the family as well, celebrated for their hard work and treated like daughters and sons. “We don’t look at this as a job. We look at it as a fun hobby that you actually make money doing,” Steve says. Many of the staff from the past still come in to lend a hand from time to time, catching up with Steve and the family like no time has passed.
Much of Steve’s daily duties have been transferred to his seven children, and 18 grandchildren who work regularly as well. “The kids think I’m semi-retired,” Steve says. Owning the restaurant has been a way of life, though, and he still comes in to chat with daily regulars that have become a part of the family.
“The good memories are the fun times we’ve had meeting people, meeting the people they know, making memories of the kids growing up and being able to take over the restaurant. That’s what excites me, because they love doing it too,” Steve says.
Nick’s Family Restaurant
In 2001, Scott Raithel was ready for a change in careers. Following in the footsteps of his family, Scott opened Nick’s Family Restaurant at the Jefferson City Memorial Airport.
“Whenever I first opened the restaurant, I was opening it with a sister of mine. We couldn’t think of a name, so my brother pretty much named the restaurant for us,” Scott says. Named proudly after his father, Nick’s has been serving up the family’s pan-fried chicken and country-style sides for decades.
“Opening your own business is kind of a leap of faith. Whenever I thought about doing it, it was scary and competitive, but anything is worth a shot,” Scott says. “I’d rather do this than anything. I’ve been happy and blessed with what has gone on in the last 19 years.”
Devastation hit Nick’s last year, when a flood forced him to move the restaurant he built over the past two decades. “When it flooded on May 23, 2019, we moved to McCarty and opened on August 15, 2019,” he says. “They tried to repair it, but there was too much damage. For the most part, the customers are still coming over.”
Business has been steady, but the top seller has slowly been changing. “Our fish is probably up there with the chicken. The chicken was the best seller for a while because that’s what we’re known for, but we have this fish now, and we sell the same or probably more.”
His father taught him that cutting corners won’t get you anywhere in business. “We use real mashed potatoes and homemade gravy,” Scott says. “You don’t want to change it if it works, right? If we went to instant potatoes, I don’t know that we’d ever hear the end of it.”
The family is actively involved at Nick’s Family Restaurant, too, with Scott’s wife, sister, and older brother all lending a hand. The newest addition to the staff is Scott’s daughter, Brooklyn, who recently started washing dishes at age 6 — just like her dad and uncle did.
Scott is constantly trying to put forth the best product he can for his customers. He says, “They come into your business and sit down, and you’re basically doing everything you can to make them happy.”