Dave Bollman has always enjoyed cooking and looked at it as no more than a hobby for much of his life.
Recently, his hobby became a little more serious.
Then again, when Bollman bought restaurant-grade cooking equipment for his home kitchen a few years ago, there was a strong indication he was capable of preparing more than just a Hot Pocket.
Wabash Bar and Grill, at the end of Moro Street in Aggieville, is co-owned by Bollman and specializes in gourmet burgers.
Bollman professed that he’s always been a “foodie” at heart.
“I’ve been cooking for about 20 years,” Bollman said. “The restaurant equipment I have here I actually had in my house. I did small catering jobs and just perfecting the stuff I was doing and learning how to make burgers. It was a hobby, and I just really enjoy cooking. I love a good burger.”
Wabash, which takes its name from the “Wabash Cannonball” tradition Kansas State University students have practiced for years, opened in July. Bollman partnered with friends Jerald Creed and Tammy Fulton to turn his cooking hobby into a business.
BOLLMAN WAS born in Iowa but grew up in Manhattan after his family moved when he was 5. He said he didn’t foresee opening a bar and grill at 52 years old.
Before the idea for Wabash became serious a couple years ago, he worked for the information technology department at K-State. Before that, he lived in Long Beach, Calif., where he was an aircraft parts designer at McDonnell-Douglas from 1986 to 1990.
After the aircraft business fell, Bollman helped start an electronic resume company similar to job sites like Monster.com and Careerbuilder.com.
Bollman, who was ready to try something else, sold his share of the company and moved back to Kansas, where he’s now cooking for a living.
But even before Bollman got serious about his own culinary skills, he was very serious about food.
“When my kids were in baseball and doing traveling sports, we’d always go to towns and try the best food,” he said. “But I was always disappointed with every restaurant we went to.”
He said it didn’t matter how good a place was said to be.
“Finally my son just said, ‘Dad, just quit going. You’re never going to find (what you like),” he said.
IT WAS after this that Bollman — who graduated from K-State in 1985 with a degree in mechanical engineering — got serious about trying his hand at the professional cooking business and went back to K-State for both culinary and restaurant management classes to bolster his business plan.
“I was just looking for practical classes at the time,” he said.
Wabash, which also features the only rooftop bar in Aggieville, has a modern design and is a part of the new building that also houses Hunam Express.
It features two full bars — one at the entrance and another in the back room — along with another smaller bar on the roof. The decor includes K-State themed paintings on the walls created by local artists. And of course, there’s no shortage of high-def TVs.
The key to Wabash, according to Bollman, is the beef used in its burgers, which is from Junction City’s Munson Angus Farms — the same beef producer that won the American Royal’s top steak prize this year.
“I had a hard time finding good meat that I liked,” Bollman said. “I love their meat, and a lot of our customers will tell you it’s the best burger they’ve ever had, and that’s what I’m shooting for. I’m not shooting for a great burger, I’m shooting for the best burger we can make.”
Bollman described dry-aged meat as beef that had been hanged for two to three weeks. During that process, he said the meat it drys and shrinks, then the outside is cut away.
“They usually lose about a third of the meat when they cut it that way,” he said. “But the meat just has more flavor.”
Bollman’s attention to detail extends to the other components of the food. The buns are gourmet, he said. Many of the condiments are made in house. The fries are cooked in rice oil.
For the beer fan, Wabash has Boulvard and Goose Island’s 312 on tap.
Many of the burgers on the Wabash menu are Aggieville related. There’s “The Hangover,” a creation that includes bacon, cheddar cheese, roasted poblanos and a fried egg; the “Big Willie,” which is a monster with two half-pound patties plus all the fixings; and finally, the “Red-Shirt Freshman,” which is the entry-level burger on the menu.
“Cooking and barbecuing for friends and as a part of my kids’ sports teams, I’ve had a lot of encouragement,” Bollman said. “I just want to share.”