Out on South Neil Street sits The Ribeye, “The Great One Steak Place” as it is known to those who dine there, opened their doors in February 1979. They made their home in the relatively young building (built in 1970) that used to be Ireland's, an Irish pub and bar with live music. The original name was Cliff Hagen’s Ribeye, part of a chain of restaurants tied to the St. Louis Hawks basketball player. In 1984, The Ribeye respectfully chose not to renew their contract with Mr. Hagen, and left on friendly terms. Now they promote University of Illinois sports, as reflected in the orange and blue decorations on the walls.
The Ribeye began as a “supper club”– customers walk into a dark restaurant perfect for a quiet night of dining. Their décor has not changed much in the past 38 years–their focus is on Illini sporting events and “tried and true” kitchen service. “We’ve been serving the same stuff since 1979,” says Buck Plummer, the general manager and day-to-day operator of The Ribeye. He has been proudly working for The Ribeye since 1980, and has lived in Champaign most of his life. He says he loves the friendly family attitude of the restaurant: parents bring their kids who then bring their kids when they are older, and it is a popular place for anniversaries and birthdays. “The Ribeye is a destination for family gatherings, and loyalty is a big part of our success,” says Buck.
The Ribeye originally served the ribeye as the only cut of red meat. Employees strive to “do it right, with quality beef and a salad bar,” said Buck. His favorite menu item is “a 10 oz combo medium rare with steak fries.” Since establishing the restaurant in the early 1980’s, The Ribeye has seen a huge scenery change in Champaign. When they opened, they were the only restaurant on the south end of Neil. Buck described it as “lonely.” Now there are several restaurants and hotels–lively scenery for this quiet supper club.
One tradition that has disappeared over the years is feeding the University of Illinois football team before a home game. Every home Friday, the football team crowded into The Ribeye for a big homestyle meal. Now the team is just too big, but The Ribeye still supports them. "The Ribeye is "a good fit with State Farm Center and the Illini Football Stadium" and Buck still happily entertains attendees after the game at the restaurant." Buck likes the aesthetic of The Ribeye. “We are not overly fancy. We’re down to earth, sticking with it. Blood sweat and tears have gone into the last 35 years of this restaurant and we are very happy with East Central Illinois and happy for memories and business continuing.”