Buggy Whip steakhouse gets ready for a comeback

An iconic Sacramento restaurant is about to make a comeback.

A dining scene fixture for half a century before its 2012 closure, the Buggy Whip is expected to reopen in October at its same location on Fulton Avenue.

“We’re back,” said Larry LeSieur, the Buggy Whip’s longtime owner and now general manager. “We have 50 years of goodwill and we’re going to build on it. People know the Buggy Whip.”

The Buggy Whip’s comeback is welcome news to Sacramento restaurant lovers. Many longtime restaurants close, but very few ever reopen.

“It’s exciting,” said Maryellen Burns, co-author of “ Lost Restaurants of Sacramento.” “The Buggy Whip had a loyal following. It’s one of the few restaurants that could come back.”

Burns counts herself among the Buggy Whip’s fans. “That was one of my favorites,” she said. “I’ve probably ate there more than any other restaurant.”

Due to changing tastes and markets, restaurant comebacks are extremely difficult, she added. Although still old-school in concept, the Buggy Whip has some differences in favor of its renewed success.

“There’s still not that many great steakhouses in town, so there’s not that much competition,” Burns said. “They’re affordable and the location is great.”

With new partner Steve Segal, LeSieur started remodeling the brick-faced eatery at 2737 Fulton Ave. about a month ago.

“We’re making it very nice,” LeSieur said Wednesday. “Painting, new ceiling, new carpeting; it will still be the same Buggy Whip, but it will be refreshed.”

The familiar steak-and-seafood menu will get a few updates, too, but will be packed with old favorites, he added.

“Everything you could get before will be the same – the prime rib, the steaks,” LeSieur said. “We’ll add some things, too; some nice salads, some specials. It’s the old menu with just a few new touches.”

Opened in 1959 by Aaron LeSieur (Larry’s dad), the Buggy Whip reflected its “Mad Men”-era roots with a beefy menu, comfy red booths and full bar. Throughout its 53-year run, the steakhouse stayed true to its mid-century roots and remained popular, serving large portions of hearty comfort food.

But in recent years, the Buggy Whip endured challenges outside its kitchen and dining room. Facing a $47,000 claim in back taxes and penalties, the restaurant filed for a voluntary bankruptcy reorganization. One of the last union shops among local restaurants, the eatery also had labor contract issues.

After wrangling with the Internal Revenue Service, union contracts and creditors, the Buggy Whip shut down in May 2012.

“Business was good when I left,” LeSieur said. “But it was just a mess.”

Now, those issues have been resolved, he said, and the countdown until the Buggy Whip’s reopening has begun.

“The (LeSieur) family has a very long history of restaurants in Sacramento dating back before the Buggy Whip,” Burns said. “They said they would come back (after the closure). If ever there were people who could make this work, it’s them.”

And, she added, “We’ll be there the first day.”