Denilson Mazariegos walked into Ned’s Starlite Lounge in September 2018 and said, “I want a job.”
“We were about two and a half weeks from opening,” Ned Shadid, Jr., said. “I told him, ‘Everyone wants a job.’”
As it turned out, Mazariegos had a ton of experience, and he was able to wrangle a day and night crew for the new restaurant. He’s been the kitchen manager ever since, and along with Ned Jr. and his father, Ned Sr., has put together a comfort-food-driven kitchen with healthy options and weekly specials that bring in the locals.
Located in the old Nomad building at 7301 N. May Ave., Ned’s Starlite Lounge is a mid-20th-century-style supper club, with a template borrowed from Ned Sr.’s childhood in Cedar Rapids, Iowa. “You have these neighborhood bars and supper clubs tucked into neighborhoods there,” Shadid, Jr., said. “So, my dad and I had kicked the idea of one of these neighborhood hangouts around for five or six years before the Nomad building became available.”
The interior is funky retro, with Naugahyde, shag carpet (under the bar top) and vintage 1960s wallpaper that Shadid found at Ketch Design Centre. The buildout by Candelaria Foster took eight months, primarily because the facility was in such bad shape that it had to be taken down to the studs and rebuilt. The name is an homage to a club Shadid, Sr., loved back in Iowa, the Starlight Room.
The senior Shadids started a catering business 37 years ago; it’s since grown into an operation large enough to service Oklahoma State football games in the club and suite levels (roughly 6,500 people per game). The transition from catering to restaurant thinking included what the younger Shadid calls a “big learning curve.”
“I’m used to firing all the food at one time for 800 people or more, not organizing 12 tickets at expo with different firing times,” he said. “My dad opened more than 30 Big Ed’s when he was the franchise manager back in the day, but I had no experience with restaurants.”
Ned’s Starlite Lounge was craft cocktail-heavy when it first opened, but Shadid said they quickly learned their core audience wasn’t a craft crowd. “We get lots of Nichols Hills folks,” he says. “If a guy drinks Dewar’s, he’s not going to ask for a craft menu; he’s going to drink his Dewar’s.”
So, the craft cocktails remain, but they’re no longer a point of emphasis. The beer list ranges from 35 to 45 options, including locals, and there’s a small wine list. The bar is usually full of regulars; some watching sports, some waiting for their car to be detailed next door – a relationship that’s worked for both operations – but all on a first-name basis with “Neddie,” as the younger Shadid is known.
The restaurant hit our radar when we were looking for the best onion rings in OKC. Shadid’s was our “Best of the 405” editors’ pick for this year, and the rest of the menu is just as well-executed. The delicious wings come with a house-made rub that’s made with more than 50 ingredients. (You can get the rub on the onion rings, too, but try them without first.) Chicken-fried steak, the ridiculously delicious Nomad burger, shrimp and polenta and rotating weekly specials scratch the comfort food itch, but lighter options are available, as well.
“We wanted a small, focused menu, where we could use items different ways,” Shadid said. “You can get salmon as an appetizer, sandwich or entrée. We have a veggie burger made in-house, too. We’re a scratch kitchen right down to our buffalo sauce.”
At Ned’s Starlite Lounge, the atmosphere and aesthetic are as much a part of the experience as the food and drink, and they all combine to create just what the Shadids hoped for: a neighborhood hangout with great food and booze.
For more, visit: https://nedsstarlitelounge.com/