Downtown Blaine hopes for a boost from new steakhouse

Published on Wed, Jul 20, 2011 by Tara Nelson

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Local restaurateur Jack Niemann recently opened a 5,000-square foot Black Forest Steak House at 638 Peace Portal Drive. The restaurant seats more than 100 people and will bring 17 new full-time jobs to the Blaine community.

Niemann opened the first Black Forest Steak House in White Rock, B.C., in 1968 and has since expanded to nearly 50 restaurants in the U.S. and Canada, including Everson and Bellingham. His Blaine restaurant will be his 49th venture, which, he noted, is coincidentally positioned on the 49th parallel.

Menu items will be similar to those offered at his other restaurants – steaks, chicken and schnitzel served with German-style side dishes such as red cabbage slaw and Yukon Gold fried potatoes. Other menu items include a “Schnitzel Oskar,” a breaded cutlet topped with asparagus, Dungeness crab and Béarnaise sauce and Alaskan wild salmon pan-seared with pesto sauce.

“It’s going to be very similar to the restaurant in Everson, except we will be offering items à la carte, so individuals can mix and match,” Niemann said. “Our prices will be a little lower if people don’t want things like soup or salad. Also, unlike our other restaurants, we want to offer some seafood since this is a seaside town.”

Niemann, whose grandfather was a famous German sausage maker, got his start in the restaurant business at the age of 16, when he moved to Canada with his family from Hannover, Germany. He was hired at Banff Springs Hotel in Banff Springs National Park in Alberta, where he apprenticed under Swiss and German trained chefs. At the age of 19, he opened his first restaurant in Calgary, Alberta, and served German dishes he thought would appeal to the North American palette.

Beyond food, Niemann, who lives in Blaine with his wife, Christina, said he thinks he will be able to draw from his following in Canada, as well as from within Whatcom County, and hopes that will “herald positive changes in Blaine.”

“When we opened the first Black Forest in White Rock, we advertised in Blaine for people to come across the border, and it worked,” he said. “Now we are doing the opposite. I have a great following from North Vancouver and West Vancouver, as well as other areas, and I want them all to come down. I love Blaine, and it should be exposed to a lot more people.”

Blaine city manager Gary Tomsic said he and other city officials also hope the restaurant will serve as an anchor business to help attract new development to downtown. Tomsic said Bellingham developer Ken Imus, who helped recruit Niemann to Blaine, has made a “significant investment” in the community. Imus, the engine behind the redevelopment of the historic Fairhaven district in Bellingham, has purchased 11 parcels of land in downtown Blaine and said he and his family are ready to see the town “take off.”

 “Between the work that Bellingham developer Ken Imus did in renovating that building and attracting Jack Niemann, I think it acts as a good strong signal to other businesses,” Tomsic said. “We’ve got two business people who’ve been involved in development and running businesses for many, many years. My experience in downtown development is that it takes one person to come into the community and then people will begin to follow. Hopefully, Niemann’s business will accomplish that.”

Black Forest Steak House is open from 4 to 10 p.m. daily. They can be reached by calling 360/306-8342.