Redefining Culinary History in Bismarck
Two beloved dining gems lie in downtown Bismarck. Dale Zimmerman and his wife, Melodie Zimmerman, co-owners of Peacock Alley and 40 Steak & Seafood, have not only supported two successful restaurants but have also played a pivotal role in the revitalization of downtown Bismarck. With a vision to create vibrant spaces and a passion for serving high-quality, unprocessed food, the Zimmermans have built a legacy that stands as a cornerstone for the local community. I spoke with Dale Zimmerman, co-owner of the culinary landmarks, to discuss each business’ history, rewards, challenges, and more. As Peacock Alley celebrates its 90th anniversary, and 40 Steak & Seafood continues to redefine culinary excellence, let us delve into the inspiring journey of the Zimmermans and how the two establishments have become unique culinary destinations in the area.
Zimmerman’s decision to enter the restaurant industry was influenced by his observations during his extensive global travels before he entered the world of restaurateurs. He witnessed a growing trend among millennials who sought out a more vibrant lifestyle, favoring downtown areas over suburban landscapes. Recognizing the untapped potential of downtown Bismarck, Zimmerman saw an opportunity to be part of a revitalization movement. When the chance to acquire Peacock Alley, a historic establishment in the Patterson building, arose, Zimmerman, along with his wife, Melodie, seized the moment.
“I come from the business world. Before I was in the restaurant business, I was an executive with a big global company. I traveled 300,000 air miles a year, all over the world. I lived in Bismarck and I’d fly to cities all over the world. I saw a unique opportunity, as there was no major revitalization of downtown Bismarck yet. It was always kind of an afterthought. My main priority was that I needed to be at home more with my kids and Melodie because I was gone all the time,” Dale said. An opportunity came to Zimmerman when he heard that the former owner of Peacock Alley would sell to the “right owner,” but didn’t have the business formally listed. Their goal was clear: to promote downtown Bismarck and ignite a renaissance that would breathe new life into the community. Since they went into the restaurant business by starting that venture on April 12, 2010, they have done all they can to remain an ever-present landmark of downtown Bismarck.
What Makes Peacock Alley Unique
Established in 1933, Peacock Alley has weathered numerous economic challenges throughout its history. From the Great Depression to recessions and the shift of businesses to suburban malls, Peacock Alley has remained steadfast. The secret to its resilience lies in its ability to adapt. Zimmerman embraced a philosophy of using whole ingredients and unprocessed foods, a trend he observed in renowned restaurants worldwide. By eliminating microwaves from the kitchen and focusing on quality ingredients, Peacock Alley delivers a unique dining experience where the flavors of the food shine through. Moreover, Peacock Alley proudly showcases its rich history on its walls, boasting visits from four U.S. presidents—an achievement shared by only a select few establishments in the country.
“I looked at [Peacock Alley] with my wife, Melodie, and we saw it as an opportunity to get in on the ground floor of a revitalization that might happen in our community. There’s no better way to do that than to be the business that’s been the cornerstone of downtown Bismarck for decades,” Dale said.
Having found success in Peacock Alley, the Zimmermans were up for yet another challenge within another popular restaurant, East 40 Food & Drink. While East 40 Food & Drink was first opened in 1975, the Zimmermans rebranded the restaurant to 40 Steak & Seafood, and are celebrating owning the business for nearly 10 years. Under the couple’s ownership, 40 Steak & Seafood emerged as a culinary gem in the Upper Midwest.
With a commitment to excellence, this establishment takes pride in its in-house dry-aged steaks—a rarity in the region. By prioritizing the use of fresh ingredients and saying goodbye to the concept of deep-frying, 40 Steak & Seafood delivers a dining experience that celebrates the natural flavors of its seafood.
“There are so many unique qualities behind 40 Steak & Seafood. We have a huge cooler that’s full of all kinds of loins to dry age because we’re the only restaurant in the Upper Midwest that dry ages our steaks in-house. We don’t have a fryer or flat-top grill, and all of our seafood is cooked, rather than deep-fried, to keep that flavor. We do things differently than anybody else, but we prefer to let the food speak for itself by not covering it with any excessive sauces or breading. We serve the customer a dish of delicious fresh seafood, with a side of fresh vegetables, and they love it,” Dale said.
Embracing the philosophy of using fresh ingredients and allowing natural flavors to shine is one of the many ways that the Zimmermans are setting their restaurants apart from the competition. In an industry known for its competitiveness, the couple understands the importance of continually striving for excellence. Procuring the freshest ingredients is a top priority for both Peacock Alley and 40 Steak & Seafood.
While being located in the heartland of North America presents logistical challenges, the Zimmermans have established connections with suppliers beyond the local market. By maintaining relationships with a diverse range of suppliers and consistently delivering high-quality products, the duo’s restaurants set themselves apart. Rather than chasing flashy, fleeting trends, the emphasis remains on providing a top-notch dining experience rooted in quality and consistency.
“We try to stay on the cutting edge as much as possible for quality and product, but we avoid any flashy trends that other restaurants do sometimes. We stick to the basics. We find that if you can offer a high-quality product, that speaks volumes for itself. When we procure the top 4% of beef that’s rated at the production plant and use that, we know that we have a consistency that no one else touches,” Dale said.
No Microwave? No Problem.
“When traveling to restaurants all over the world, it was clear that many of the greatest restaurants start with whole ingredients and unprocessed foods. It’s a generational thing. If you cook your food and use real ingredients, people will respond positively. We start with quality ingredients and create food that you can’t get anywhere else, so 10 years ago, we got rid of all our microwaves. As far as I know, we’re the only two restaurants in the area that don’t even have a microwave. When it comes to something as simple as even making hot water, we do it the old-fashioned way with a boiling kettle. We do everything very unprocessed and let the whole ingredients speak for themselves.”
– Dale Zimmerman
Did You Know?
40 Steak & Seafood consists of five individual dining rooms; each with its own unique decor and history!
Both restaurants’ products were facing a questionable future with many local businesses being impacted by the pandemic in early 2020. When the COVID-19 pandemic struck, Peacock Alley came down on some hard times that were challenging for the team to get through. As with most business owners, the Zimmermans were facing an entirely new, unprecedented, and unpredictable situation with COVID-19 forcing many businesses to limit their capacity or close altogether. Despite this challenge, they led the charge to push Peacock Alley through the landscape of restrictions, guidelines, and general safety to continue operating years after the initial shutdown in early 2020.
While Peacock Alley faced the hardships that many large restaurants did, 40 Steak & Seafood was well-positioned to adapt quickly due to its niche market of catering to smaller groups. While many restaurants faced significant challenges during this time, the couple’s focus on intimate dining experiences allowed his establishment to rebound swiftly.
“40 Steak & Seafood never really faced many challenges during the pandemic, as we’ve always specialized in one to two couples going out to eat. 40 Steak & Seafood rebounded super quickly because when the world was saying ‘you shouldn’t be meeting in large groups,’ that was already our niche,” Dale said.
However, he also acknowledges the importance of treating employees like family. By fostering a positive work environment and offering competitive wages and flexible schedules, the Zimmermans have nurtured long-term relationships with their staff. This approach has resulted in an exceptional employee retention rate, with some team members proudly serving Peacock Alley for over three decades.
“I know that ‘family’ sounds cliche, but we’re in an industry where the average employee tenure is between six months and a year, which is crazy, but we’re proud that we have employees who have worked with us for over a decade. We have staff at Peacock Alley that have been with us for over 30-some years. We treat our employees well in terms of wages and flexible schedules and they pay that respect forward to the customer. If you treat employees like it’s their career, they’ll treat their role like a career as well,” Dale said.
Peacock Alley and 40 Steak & Seafood have established not only a dedicated employee base but also a loyal customer following, by maintaining classic dishes that have become beloved staples in the community. While the core menu remains largely unchanged, the teams at both establishments occasionally introduce new ideas through innovative appetizers and seasonal offerings. Notably, the introduction of bowls during the pandemic provided a delicious and convenient option that appealed to customers both during dining restrictions and beyond.
“People love and come back for core items, such as the filet mignon, ribeye, salmon, and chicken salad. I’m pretty sure my house would get egged if we dropped a few of those items! We did launch bowls during the pandemic to provide more opportunities during the social distancing restrictions. They taste delicious and travel well, so we’ve kept them as a mainstay item. Both Peacock Alley and 40 Steak & Seafood are places to gather with family and friends and celebrate life together. Those memories that you walk away with can’t be put in a to-go box, so we couldn’t be happier to be out of those days,” Dale said.
What’s Your Favorite Steak, Dale?
Peacock Alley: My favorite is the hanger steak, served medium rare. That’s about the only steak that I really enjoy medium rare, and it’s the most flavorful steak that I’m probably ever going to have.
40 Steak & Seafood: I love the cowboy ribeye or porterhouse, served medium.
Did You Know?
“Our parent company is titled SQV, Inc., standing for service, quality, and value. We strive to achieve those three words every single day by providing the best experience we possibly can, at a great value. We’re procuring ingredients from different suppliers around the world.”
– Dale Zimmerman
Dale and Melodie Zimmerman’s journey as restaurateurs in Bismarck highlights their unwavering commitment to quality, community, and downtown revitalization. Through Peacock Alley and 40 Steak & Seafood, they have established culinary landmarks that celebrate the unique flavors of unprocessed food, creating spaces for cherished moments with loved ones. The Zimmerman’s dedication to service, quality, and value has propelled both establishments to exceptional success, setting a standard for others to aspire to. As Bismarck continues to evolve, the duo’s restaurants remain symbols of culinary excellence, inviting patrons to indulge in a blend of timeless and innovative flavors.