New owners take over management of Blackbird Bar & Grill

Steve Chapman

Original owner Koehler will continue to work at popular Aurora restaurant as server
The Blackbird Bar & Grill in Aurora is officially under new ownership. Brandon Bowling and Rich Eckman, both Aurora natives, became the new owners of the restaurant on Friday, Feb. 15.
For Bowling, owning a restaurant is a completely new experience. Before taking co-ownership of the Blackbird, he was a police officer for 10 years; prior to that, he joined the military out of high school.
“This is day one, so it’s been eye-opening, as far as (working) in the restaurant world,” he said on the day he and Eckman took over the restaurant. “I didn’t really know what was going on in the restaurant world, and now I do, or I’m learning. It’s a good change of pace for me.”
Eckman, on the other hand, has a long history in the restaurant business. When he was 14, he went to work at Sonic, where he remained for eight years. He eventually worked his way up to general manager, and then later bought his own Sonic restaurant. He left to pursue other interests, but eventually decided to return to Sonic.
 “It was the only thing I’d ever done, so I’d left to see what else was out there,” he said. “I was in the car business for about 10 years, (but) honestly, I missed Sonic. I liked what I was doing, came back to that. That’s the business that I’m still in, actually.”
Eckman now owns several Sonic restaurants, and also owns some local family restaurants also. It’s not easy to manage several restaurants, but Eckman said he handles things as they come around.
“(I) see what comes up and take it day by day,” he said.
Bowling said he agreed to purchase the restaurant with Eckman, in part because he wanted to see the Blackbird continue on, but also because after 10 years as a police officer, he wanted to do something different.
“I can go home without a weight on my shoulders, like I did when I was at the police department,” he said. “It’s going to be very refreshing for me.”
Eckman said he was excited to own a business in his hometown.
“I was excited,” he said. “I’m from Aurora, I grew up here, graduated from here, so (when) the opportunity came up for a local business, I just … jumped in.”
Eckman also said he was pleased to see several old friends at the Blackbird.
“A lot of the people I’m running into are people I went to school with,” he said, “so it’s nice to be able to see those people again and keep a locally-owned business open.”
Dewana Koehler, who sold the Blackbird to Bowling and Eckman, will continue to work at the restaurant as a server, which she described as work she loves.
“I’m very happy that the new owners are going to keep me on as a server, because that’s what I enjoy doing,” she said. “That’s my passion. Hopefully they’ll keep me. I’m going to stay on as long as they’ll have me.”
Koehler said she bought the restaurant in 2005 because she enjoyed serving people, but she didn’t like the business-end of restaurant ownership.
“I got into this because I like to serve food and I like people,” she said. “That’s the only reason I got into this. I really thought that everything else was going to take care of itself, and it didn’t.”
While ownership has changed at the Blackbird, not much else has. While they have added a very large cinnamon roll to the menu, Bowling and Eckman said they don’t plan many changes to the restaurant. They have retained all of the staff, including Koehler, and plan to continue to run things as usual.
“We’ll just see where it goes,” Eckman said. “It can just stay this size and keep rolling. If our customers are enjoying it, we’ll just keep (it) … the way it is. It’s all about them.”
The Blackbird Bar and Grill is located at 1321 S. Elliot in Aurora, and is now a non-smoking establishment. It’s open from 11 a.m. to 8 p.m., Monday through Thursday; 11 a.m. to 9 p.m. on Friday through Saturday, closed on Sunday. For more information, call (417)678-2100, or visit the restaurant’s page on Facebook.


Lawrence County Record

312 S. Hickory St.
Mt. Vernon, MO, 65712


Please Login for Premium Content