Daily Times Herald photos by Jeff Storjohann
Daily Times Herald photos by Jeff Storjohann

The Carrollton Centre’s Charlie’s restaurant dramatic transformation from a grandma’s-living-room atmosphere into a modern steakhouse-bar-wing joint has proven to be a wildly successful business move in the first two months of new operations.

“I don’t think we could have anticipated this,” said co-owner Teri Scharfenkamp.

Business is up at least 50 percent. There are waiting lists on many nights, and alcohol sales have at least tripled, Scharfenkamp said.

“It’s a laid-back atmosphere, and I think people feel comfortable coming out,” Scharfenkamp said. “We see everything. Every age group. Oh, my gosh, we are seeing a lot more kids now.”

In terms of the local economy the Charlie’s remodel — which was completed on Jan. 16 — resulted in a doubling of the number of full- and part-time restaurant employees to 51.

Beginning March 17 Charlie’s will be open 11 a.m. to 10 p.m. Monday through Saturday. It is now open 5 to 10 p.m. Saturday. Some special Sunday features may be in the offing in the future, Scharfenkamp said. And overall hours could change to meet demand, especially during major sports events if the bar business does well.

As part of the makeover, the long-standing buffet was ripped out and replaced with a multi-sided bar and large, high-definition televisions tuned to sports. Hard-surface floors were added, and the décor modernized. Patrons can even gobble peanuts and toss aside shells.

And the new Charlie’s Steakhouse has laser focus on its namesake — steaks.

A frequent comment from patrons, said Sarah Muhlbauer, Carrollton Centre hotel manager, is this refrain: “This is exactly what Carroll needed.”

She noted that appetizers took off with the change, too. At the old Charlie’s, during a good month, the restaurant might move 80 appetizers. Now the eatery sells upwards of 70 a night — buoyed in no small part by the presence of tasty chicken wings and fried pickles.

“We have a guy that does nothing but appetizers back there all night long,” said Kevin Wanninger, the Carrollton’s food and beverage manager.

The steakhouse features Angus beef and specialty seafood, and maintains much of the former menu along with additions, Wanninger said.

Several patrons already have commented on the seasoned burgers. Wanninger said an Omaha Steaks seasoning adds to the flavor.

Wanninger, a Manning native who now lives in Carroll, previously managed the Carroll Country Club and owned the Carlson House in Sac City for a time. He also has extensive experience with major hotel chains in Michigan and Florida as well as a bachelor’s degree in business from the University of Iowa and another undergraduate degree — in restaurant management — from Florida International University.

The Carrollton Centre has maintained the Swizzle Stick bar as it is, and Polly’s will not change, catering to people who prefer the more traditional environment and seating style. The hotel complex also is able to provide buffet service for weddings and other large functions. Meeting rooms will continue to serve a variety of groups and businesses.

Patrons who can eat a 2-pound prime-rib dinner will receive a T-shirt, and those who can down a 1-pound burger with a pound of fries also will receive a shirt.

“This is fun, this is what it’s about,” Wanninger said.

Charlie’s made the decision not to accept reservations — as it would have to keep a table free beginning at 5:30 p.m. for a 7 p.m. reservation, limiting access. Those with parties of 10 or more can make arrangements for special seating in conference rooms and are encouraged to do so by calling (712) 792-5600.