Chuggin’ Along, Old School

Photo by Tim Johnson

Photo by Tim Johnson

Sky Harbor Steakhouse
by Bill More

I was able to share some time with Daryl Klusendorf, 60, of Sky Harbor 

Steakhouse in Peoria, 

Daryl has been ‘in the business’ basically all his life. His family owned The Lariat Club from 1956 to 1962, than leased to the Khoury family who ended up buying the restaurant a few years later. Daryl’s own professional story includes work as a chef for Timber Lake and The Elk’s Club from 1975-1978. Since that year he has been with Sky Harbor full time. 

Sky Harbor is one of the few locally owned steakhouses in the Tri-County area.
I call it a foundation restaurant --- one that started years ago with a  fabulous and successful concept, and today, literally decades later, the concept still works ---

Great Steaks, Great Catfish, Great Fried Chicken, Great Ribs, Au Gratin Potatoes, 

and salad. It is a formula that is tried-and-true: Top Quality ingredients, custom-prepared  just right for each and every customer, and repeat, and repeat, and repeat, and repeat.

Sky Harbor won the Peoria Ribfest for the Best Professionally Prepared Ribs in both 1999 and 2000, and they have not competed since about 2003. They have customers that have enjoyed their food for generations ---- truly --- with customers now in their 80s and 90s, to families in their 30s. 

Daryl is proud to admit that Sky Harbor is Old School. They want their customers to experience the same dining celebration today that they had 25 years ago. He thought about serving smaller steaks and cutting the price by $5 but realized that was not what the customer wanted or expected. 

The food trend when he started in the business was great steaks, great fried chicken, great ribs, great potatoes. Today they serve more roasted and broiled chicken but the rest has pretty much stayed the same. Their catfish is only served fresh. If their supplier runs out of fresh catfish, it’s off the menu until it returns. 

When I asked Daryl about his predicted trends for the future he sees ‘fresh’ foods continuing their popularity, and BACON and all things BACON will continue to trend up. He does see the chain restaurants driving trends in certain directions but always subject to change. He finds that Peoria is still a steak-and-potatoes town and that it still appreciates and supports locally owned restaurants that can happily and ably compete. 

He also sees a big increase in the arts community in the area and that drives business too. 

When I asked what has surprised him about the business, he said he thought it would get easier. And when I asked if there were any disappointments in the business, he said the thought it would get easier. Funny --- hard work and long hours with the right formula still works, and easy is not part of it. Consistency is the key ---- top quality ingredients, the same meals expertly prepared, over, and over, and over, and over, and over. 

Even the feel of the place is the same as when they opened ---- Old School, proudly Old School. 

Sky Harbor does have live music 3 nights per week, jazzy and cool, nothing really trendy, and that brings an energy, consistency, and variety to the dining experience. Daryl does play the guitar himself and regularly joins in. The music energizes him too. He said he cannot imagine owning a restaurant without live music. 

He is most appreciative of his long-term and newer customers for their support over the decades and for Sky Harbor’s success. They have been doing it proudly Old School since they started. There is no reason to change the formula now --- no reason.