Bob Sikora's first eatery was Bob's Pancake House, which he opened in 1959, and learned his first lessons in being a businessman in the valley of the sun.
By Steve Ayers Special to VVN
In the world of restaurateurs and nightclub owners, Bob Sikora is a superstar — honest to God hall of fame material if only such an institution existed.
At 15 he dropped out of school to go to sling hamburgers at Phoenix’s first McDonald’s. By the time he was 20 years old he owned his own restaurant.
He would go on to own and operate some of the most successful night clubs and restaurants in the Phoenix area, such institutions as Mr. Lucky’s, Neptune’s Table and the flagship of his long career, Bobby McGee’s Conglomeration.
But he will be the first to tell you, that in spite of all his accomplishments, success did not come easily. It came one grueling, often repetitive lesson at a time.
“I was never a fast learner. Everything I learned to do I learned by doing it over and over until I had it mastered. I am slow, but I’m thorough,” he says.
Sikora opened his first restaurant, Bob’s Pancake House, in 1959. Located inside the Town and Country Food Bazaar, he took an existing business, put his own flourish on it and for seven days a week, he flipped flapjacks.
After about a year and half he stopped flipping pancakes and instead flipped the business. His first lesson learned was that if he remained a hands-on owner and paid attention to the details, he would succeed.
And success, he discovered, translated to wealth.
From the pancake business he opened Town House, then a couple of beer and burger joints, Jeb’s and Pig & Bun. His first nightclub, McGoo’s, opened in 1964.
In 1966, and not yet 30 years old, Sikora opened Mr. Lucky’s, a 20,000-square-foot nightclub on Grand Avenue that featured country music upstairs and rock ‘n’ roll downstairs.
Born into the world of rock ‘n’ roll, Sikora had become a big country music fan while he owned and operated McGoo’s. And it wasn’t long before he was rubbing elbows with country music’s biggest stars.
In time he became close friends with Waylon Jennings, Marty Robbins, Glen Campbell, Charlie Pride and Willie Nelson.
In the late 1980s he took some of his profits and purchased a 200-acre parcel astride the Verde River, just south of Camp Verde, called the Roadrunner Ranch. It became his home away from the hustle and bustle of his rapidly growing entertainment and foodservice empire.
Today the ranch, now called Rocking River Ranch, is owned by Arizona State Parks. But when Sikora owned it, it was a hangout for his country music buddies.
“There was a rumor that I was entertaining the likes of Glen Campbell and Marty Robbins in Camp Verde in those days. The rumor is true. I’d take them out riding along the river and spend the evenings looking at the stars. It was a fun, fun time,” he says.
Sikora also sold Mr. Lucky’s in the 1980s after another one of his ventures, Bobby McGee’s Conglomeration, became the focus of his life.
A totally unique concept and an eclectic approach only he could pull off, McGee’s had to be experienced to be understood. It was intentionally designed so the customer could spend their entire evening, as well as a good portion of their paycheck, in one place.
And why not, it had everything. It was a restaurant, a nightclub and a disco. Every room, every stick of furniture, every decoration, every antique accoutrement, was different.
Even the waiters and waitresses were dressed in costumes that did not necessarily reflect a theme other than the fact that Bobby McGee’s was a symphony of the senses, a menagerie of serendipity, or as Sikora called it, a conglomeration.
From its beginnings in 1971 the Bobby McGee’s grew to international proportions. At one time there were 24 of them stretching from Australia to North Carolina.
But beginning in the 1980s and on through the 1990s, Sikora began to divest himself of his holdings. Mable Murphy’s, Beef Rigger, Chimmy McFadden’s and eventually his inventory of Bobby McGee’s were sold off.
It wasn’t that Sikora was going to retire. That was not in his blood. And even today, at 75, retirement is not even in his vocabulary.
In 2006, he began his most ambitious project to date. He converted one of the original Bobby McGee’s locations, at Interstate 17 just south of Dunlap Avenue in Phoenix, into his world-class interpretation of barbecue. He calls it, not surprisingly, Bobby Q’s.
The $3 million renovation is not only a monument to all Sikora has learned about the industry, but it is also a monument to barbecue itself, something he took a real liking to while serving his guests at the Roadrunner Ranch.
A few years ago, after Bobby Q’s was up and running, Sikora went once again in search of a place of solitude where he could relax.
“I went looking for a cow outfit. I have always loved riding horses and rounding up cattle and just being out with the dogs,” he says.
His search took him to southern Arizona, but border problems made him shy away. He looked around Payson and Prescott and Flagstaff.
Last year he gave up the cattle ranching notion and instead found himself a place somewhat smaller than the Roadrunner but just as picturesque, astride the Verde River in Camp Verde.
Today, he and the love of his life, Ursula, raise and train horse. It’s not something he is doing for the money. It’s become a passion.
And make no mistake. Just because Bob Sikora bought a ranch does not mean he has gone out to pasture.
But he doesn’t mind reflecting on his journey from high-school dropout hamburger slinger to hospitality industry superstar.
“Everyone has the ability to do whatever they choose in their heart to do,” he says. “I chose to make money and I did. It never came easy. There were obstacles at every turn. But the one thing I realized early on was success was a combination of a lot of things, some you could control and some you couldn’t.
“The one thing I learned I had total control of was attitude. It’s all in the way a job is approached. Success is entirely a matter of attitude.”
Asked what he might do next, Sikora says he is content for the time being just keeping an eye on Bobby Q’s as well as his horses, but leaves the door open for whatever opportunity might cross his path.
“I’m not too old. I’m 75 but I think like I’m 65,” he says. “I go to the gym every day. I eat right and I still have a lot of things going on in my mind.
“I love the Verde Valley and once thought of buying Jerome or Camp Verde just to see what I could do with a whole town. That probably won’t happen but there is a lot of opportunity here for someone with a vision—someone with the right attitude.”
Posted: Saturday, January 25, 2014
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Looking up Bob Sikora in camp verd his obituary came up but didn't read as if he had passed away. I'm a very old friend and would like to know if in deed he has passed,when and how. Thanks. Barbara McClain