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Wednesday, March 24, 2021

THE BENNETT FAMILY is excited about their latest adventure in opening the Meridian Tap House. Bennettt Family members include (from left) Eli, Lola, Libby, Lenor and Kristen Bennett. BARB BIERMAN-BATIE/TRI-CITY TRIBUNE

When COVID-19 hit last year Eli and Kristen Bennett had a lot of time to think and reevaluate some of life’s priorities. Native Cozad residents and high school sweethearts, they had both spent a lot of time in food service employment and started discussing different options to return to that industry.

“Eli and I take an annual motorcycle trip and last summer we were in Wyoming. We stopped at this pizza place that had a limited menu and offered drinks, many that were made locally or regionally,” said Kristen. “We liked the concept.”

The Bennetts started talking with friends and decided they wanted to focus on a place where people can come hang out that was family-oriented. A visit with Cozad Community Development director Jen McKeone further sparked the idea when they learned of a building available downtown.

With that encouragement, development of a business plan and financing secured, Meridian Tap House was born. The Bennett’s bought the former Illusions bar at 714 Meridian from Balthazar and Solidad Avalos. “We can’t thank them enough as they had already done a ton of work,” said Kristen. “We basically had to finish the restrooms, do some painting and a bit of electrical and plumbing work.”

Both Kristen and Eli have full-time jobs that for now both plan on keeping. Eli is a lineman for the City of Cozad and Kristen is employed by the Cozad Community Health System. “He received his journeyman’s degree thanks to the city supporting his studies and I have a degree in hospital administration,” she said.

“Everyone thought we were crazy buying a bar. ‘Does Cozad really need another bar?’ But we want to make everyone feel welcome and taken care of here,” said Kristen. “We also believe we have found our niche with a limited menu. Plus our trademark will be to promote Nebraska beers on our taps and distilled spirits made in Nebraska for making our other

They have recruited a core group of employees, three full-time and nine part-time, to hold down the fort while they are at work, she said. “For many this is also a second job, but one they enjoy because they can be among family and friends. This is definitely a family affair. I myself work with computers all day and at night can now work with people.”

The limited menu features three signature burgers, all served with beer-battered fries. “The first is often referred to as a ‘Runner’s Lunch,’ and is my favorite because I and several friends love to run and often have this after a running event,” said Kristen. “The Bloody Mary Burger includes a fried egg-topped burger with a special ketchup sauce.”

“My Dad loves to barbecue and smoke meat, so we had to celebrate that with Piggy’s Small Burger. Finally there is the MTh — Meridian Tap House burger that is loaded with Swiss cheese, sauteed mushrooms and onions, which is a favorite of my Mom.”

MTH patrons have the option of subbing out a grilled or crispy chicken patty for the burger. In addition, on Thursdays, Fridays and Saturdays they offer gyros,

Tap House hours are 11 a.m. to 11 p.m. seven days a week and there are two daily lunch specials. “We keep that menu limited so people can come in and get out,” notes Kristen.

MTh held a soft opening a few days before their grand opening on March 12 and they are still on a learning curve, chuckled Kristen. “We had to close this past Sunday because we ran out of almost everything— food and beverages. It is a lesson learned and we hope people that came that day only to find out we were closed will come back and give us another try.”

“We are very blessed and grateful for how supportive everyone has been,” she added, noting they are happy to have found a niche that appears to resound with area residents.