By Eleni Upah
It all started with a walk-up restaurant in Muscatine, Iowa, 88 years ago. Maid-Rite has been serving the same loose-meat, ground beef sandwiches since its inception in 1926. Brad and Tania Burt bought the franchise, with an investor group in 2002, and the couple has maintained a love for the food — and the customers — that keeps the business flourishing.
Growing up with a love for Maid-Rite sandwiches, Brad said when the opportunity came for him and his wife to buy the franchise he jumped at it. He was eager to own the well-known brand he had enjoyed for so long.
Maid-Rite certainly is something of an icon — at least in the Midwest, with 29 locations in Iowa alone. While each restaurant has its own unique characteristics, they all stay true to the hometown values and quality food standards of the original. The Midwest-grown beef is made from only the good parts of young cattle and has no fillers. It’s cooked and steamed — not fried — to reduce fat, and made with the original secret seasoning. “You have to buy the franchise to find out (how it’s made),” said Tania.
The retro décor is a mainstay at the diners, whose red-and-white sign is treasured by local and traveling visitors alike. Maid-Rite is one of those places you always make time to stop by when you’re in town.
As a former waitress at the Tama, Iowa, store, I saw it firsthand: return customers who were “passing by” just had to come in for the one-of-a-kind Maid-Rite sandwich. The same can be said for local customers, who often came in every day at the same time to order their favorites and chat with the staff.
“One’s business is dependent on one’s customers, (and) we just appreciate the tremendous loyal customers that we have that come back time and time again,” said Brad, who, as an Iowan himself, is happy to keep the Iowa history alive in his franchise.
The Maid-Rite sandwich comes standard with ketchup, mustard, pickles and onions, but there are variations like the Cheese-Rite, Chili-Rite and Bacon-Rite. Other classic menu items include french fries, cheese balls, malts, shakes and homemade breaded tenderloins — another crowd favorite.
The Iowa-born icon offers dine-in and carry out services, with a few drive-thru services at select locations. RELISH