Brent Lindner — Restaurateur

by Paul Nielsen

Not long after arriving in sunny southern California on a basketball scholarship, restaurateur Brent Lindner dropped out of college to ride the waves at Laguna Beach. He’d made friends who surfed and worked in the restaurant industry, and life on the beach wooed him out of the classroom. Brent found work at the Red Onion up in Newport Beach — where actors and musicians were regular customers — to support his surfing hobby. His employer took to him well enough to offer a position overseas, and he went to Australia to help start new restaurants and bars down under.

When he moved back to Nebraska after falling in love with Hastings College, the sea and sand inspired his own establishments. He opened Wave Pizza Company in 2001. “Wave Pizza is a culmination of every beach I’ve ever been to, surfed, laid on, built a sand castle on, dreamed about and experienced,” Lindner said.

It was a no-brainer to serve stone-oven pizza after looking at what the Grand Island restaurant scene needed in the late 1990s. There weren’t any local pizza places, so he created this “broken down beach shack” in the middle of Nebraska where visitors can relax, get a nice hot slice of pie and drink a cold beer.

Around the same time Brent founded J. Alfred Prufrocks with a partner, seeing a need for a romantic place where people can go on a nice date and buy a nice bottle of wine to celebrate a promotion at work or an anniversary. The name is taken from T.S. Eliot’s poem The Love Song of J. Alfred Prufrock. “I like having different names, quirky names, names with a story behind them because that’s what people want to know.”

When he and his partner opened Prufrocks, they thought they’d see a lot of professionals such doctors, lawyers, and businessmen, but the bar actually serves a very diverse crowd. “People from all walks of life have kind of adopted the place and really enjoy it. We have a group of truck drivers that come down from Central City to drink Johnny Walker Blue and smoke little vanilla cigars. It’s a place where you can relax. Over the years we’ve gotten compliments from people in Chicago, New York, California, saying ‘We don’t even have something like this.’”

Over the years we’ve gotten compliments from people in Chicago, New York, California, saying ‘We don’t even have something like this.'

All of Brent’s restaurants are downtown. He didn’t even consider setting up shop anywhere else in Grand Island. “It’s vibrant; it’s real down here,” he says. “Everything else is corporate, brand name, it has no personality. We’ve got personality downtown. Downtown has independent thinkers, shopkeepers, people that care about what they’re doing. That’s what keeps me gettin’ up in the morning.”

In 2011 Brent opened Sin City. “Sin City was fun; they’ve all been fun.” His hope is that his restaurants and bars bring people together to have real conversations in this world where instant information is the norm. He loves to have people come out and converse and share a meal. Over good things, bad things and whatever.

“I like having some sort of theme associated with my places, but I’m wary of it at the same time.” Planet Hollywood sold out, he posits, and Rainforest Cafe was all atmosphere and terrible food. In one year, Brent went out to Las Vegas seven times researching for Sin City. In the end, he decided to emulate the Las Vegas of the late 1950s and early 1960s. This led to even more research looking for authentic pieces of memorabilia from the old casinos. “One of the reasons it takes me so long to get some of these places open is that we want to replicate a mood through the decor. Come in and step back from your day and absorb the environment.”

"And we’re all screwed if Facebook starts serving drinks and food.”

Brent’s philosophy is to take care of the customer so the customer can step aside from whatever they were doing that day and relax.  Better food, better cocktails in a better environment. Come in and feel the vibe. Spend some time with friends and family and be human and talk. “You get more stuff done talking than on the phone and texting and Facebooking with genuine human concern in a real place. And we’re all screwed if Facebook starts serving drinks and food.”