A Cut Above

Posted: March 1, 2022 at 3:03 pm

Wick’s satisfies craving for flame-seared steaks and nurtures a community’s soul

By Dianna Troyer

Wick’s Steak Place and Saloon in Declo is more than a business to manager Kimee Wickel Needs.

“It’s my baby,” says Kimee of the 2,000-square-foot steakhouse at 18 E. Main Street. “It’s a way to honor my uncle and to carry on his tradition of grilling steaks the Old West way—over an applewood flame. It makes an incredible flavor. I also want this to be a gathering place for the community. Growing up in this area made me who I am, and running this is a way to show my gratitude.”

Channeling her work ethic, sense of humor, hospitality and appreciation of a ranching lifestyle, Kimee has created more than a restaurant filled with the scent of sizzling steaks.

It is also an art gallery; a venue for local bands, dancing and karaoke; and a reception center for celebrating weddings, birthdays, and anniversaries. Kimee posts the entertainment schedule on Wick’s Steak Place Facebook page for more than 3,000 followers.

“We have people driving more than 200 miles round trip to enjoy a steak dinner and dancing here on weekends,” she says. “Some people from as far as St. George, Utah, make a point to stop when they’re traveling through.”

Wick’s won best steakhouse in the Mini- Cassia area in a people’s choice contest and second place in service with her staff of 60.

“We’re like family and work together, taking pride in everything we make,” Kimee says. “We hand cut our meat and grind our own burger.”

She attributes Wick’s reputation for flavorful beef to her uncle, Wallace Wickel, who grew up in nearby Elba, where Kimee lives. Wallace perfected a technique for grilling steaks over an open flame and seasoning them with a secret spice blend.

Kimee and her daughter, Kylee, check the reservation book.
Kimee and her daughter, Kylee, check the reservation book.

He started an award-winning restaurant, Wolf Lodge Inn Steakhouse in Coeur d’Alene, and also opened a steakhouse in Declo. Under tutelage of Wallace, Kimee’s brother, Dillon, launched Indian Creek Steakhouse in Caldwell, a thriving enterprise that occupies three adjacent buildings.

“There’s an art to cooking over a flame and knowing where to place the meat on the grill,” Kimee says. “We use a temperature probe for precise degrees of doneness.”

Popular entrees feature ribeye, sirloin, filet, prime rib, Kobe beef, smoked brisket and tri-tip. She offers all-you-can-eat seafood on Tuesday evenings.

The restaurant suffered a setback in 2018 when a fire devastated the interior. “It likely started at an outlet where a plug arced,” Kimee says. “The building is 100 years old, so the wooden walls are dry and caught fire quickly.”

For nearly two years, Kimee and friends restored it. A friend built tables, emblazing her dad’s brand on them, an H and a cross.

In 2020, Kimee began managing Wick’s after Dillon taught her how to run a restaurant.

“I owe all of this to Dillon,” she says. “He owns it, and I manage it.”

When Kimee walks past a metal sign in the bar—Burnout Saloon with flames dancing around it—she says it reminds her to have a sense of humor.

“Considering the fire and lengthy renovation, it’s a perfect name,” she says. “Sometimes, you have to laugh or you’ll cry.”

Kimee says she had to laugh when she was repairing the lava rock and concrete pit Wallace had built where the wood burns.

“I was on a budget and couldn’t afford to hire someone,” Kimee says. “All the concrete and rock I’d put up collapsed overnight. I had to start over and got the mixture right the second time.”

Frustrations are often outweighed by customers’ kindness. Kimee, 51, says she has known many customers since childhood and thinks of them as extended family.

One regular lunch diner, Alma Turner, and his wife, Joan, let Kimee stay with them for two weeks when she was young and a fire burned her family’s apartment.

Chef Cody Peters trims and weighs beef.
Chef Cody Peters trims and weighs beef.

“People in town opened their homes to us until our new apartment was ready,” Kimee says. “People around here are amazingly generous.”

A local artisan metalworker, Lonnie Taylor, made the Burnout Saloon sign for her. A local professional artist, Robert Moore, sells his work at prestigious galleries throughout the West and provided a dozen paintings to hang on the walls. People donate applewood or plow snow off the parking lot.

“Last summer, when local teens were in a car accident, we hosted a fundraiser and raised $44,000 in one night to help them pay medical bills,” she says.

Customers routinely overtip their servers.

“They tell me they’ve been blessed and want to bless others, so they ask me who needs some help financially,” Kimee says.

Customers are also entertaining, says her daughter, Kylee, a hostess.

“I love interacting with locals and hearing their stories,” Kylee says.

Although Kimee’s parents have passed away, she says their presence lingers at the steakhouse. Photos of her dad, Harvey, a third-generation rancher in Elba, decorate
the walls.

“He was proud at age 71 to still be moving cattle while riding colts he trained,” she says. “He always told me, ‘Be who you are, not who the world wants you to be.’ ” Her mom, Judy, ran a café in town.

“Everything she cooked was made from scratch,” Kimee says. “She always put love into her food, too—another family tradition we’re continuing.”

Wick’s is open Tuesday to Friday from 11 a.m. to 9 p.m., and Saturday from 4 p.m. until closing.