The Dish: Our restaurant bubble grows

By Jim Duncan


The second quarter of 2016 was deceiving, at least to people who only read headlines. Casey’s first-quarter earnings may have disappointed some analysts, but it remained healthy at more than 5 percent growth, in a national economy stuck at less than 2 percent for eight years. Meanwhile, the Ankeny chain worked on 22 replacement stores and opened its first outlet in Ohio, its 15th state for operations. Des Moines schools retooled its menus to appeal more to minority students. Sriracha joined the condiment tray, sweet & sour chicken (an American invention), sweet potato curry and hash, and fish with Sun Butter are some new offerings at various schools. However, government regulations stifled many more serious changes.

A University of Michigan study claimed that ethanol and other plant-based fuels emit more carbon dioxide than gasoline. Corn growers strongly disagreed. Everyone from Farm Bureau to the Sierra Club had an idea about how to improve water quality. Those differed drastically. Is environmental science the new nutrition? Both seem to reverse their dogma regularly.

Less confusing was the optimism locally that people have few limits on what they will buy to eat. Iowa State Fair fans consumed 158,000 eggs on a stick. New restaurant openings demolished all previous records.




B&G Foods (Jolly Green Giant) of New Jersey announced plans to acquire the spices and seasonings business of ACH Food Companies, the owner of Tone’s, for about $365 million. The sale means B&G will acquire the Spice Islands, Durkee and Tone’s spice brands, along with Tone’s Ankeny factory… El Sol Azteca opened in the iconic Gino’s venue… Peter Faber returned from Chicago to open Barn City Brewing early next year in the Hawthorne Center in West Des Moines… Nick Tillnghast returned from Las Vegas to partner with Kyle McClain and Ryan Hutchison to remodel the lobby of the Des Moines Register building into a classic cocktail bar “Hello, Marjorie,” with a planned opening in December… Irina’s Restaurant added Russian pirogis, golubcis, pelmeni dumplings, blinis, chicken rolls and pickled cabbage to its carryout menu… Rookies moved to increase its Iowa craft beer offerings, to add brunch and to change its menu… Alex Carter (Table 128) launched Black Cat Ice Cream at Gas Lamp on Grand Avenue… Jeff Duncan (Dos Rios, DM Catering) opened Vivian’s in the former Gramercy Tap venue in Kirkwood Hotel. His chef is Jerry Talerico, long-time owner of Sam & Gabe’s… Chris Dieble opened Bubba in the former Raccoon River Brewing Company locale… Annie Baldwin launched the gorgeous Magnolia in the former Lurra Cocina… Sam Auen closed his Krunkwich Ramen House in East Village and expanded that café’s menu to Piu Piu Dim Sum in the former Kwong Tung on Ingersoll. Auen also planned a new Tacopocalypse in Ankeny… Goldfinch replaced Dos Rios but kept its famous tableside guacamole… David Baruthio (Baru 66, Blue Tomato) partnered with Mike Crownover (Lurra Cocina) to plan a fall opening for Saison Kitchen & Pub in Windsor Heights… Baruthio also partnered with Uriah Mixdorf to open a new Whiskey House and Bourbon Grill in Ankeny’s Prairie Trails… Peace Tree Brewing Company of Knoxville moved to open an East Village outlet on East Court Avenue… Kevin and Jennifer DuBay (The Continental) planned a fall opening for their new bar and grill Taureau in the renovated Hotel Randolph… Tom Baldwin opened his third 1908 Draught House, on Court Avenue… Sam & Gabe’s planned an expansion to a 5,400-square-foot restaurant in The Lyon in East Village… Liam Anivat (Cool Basil) worked to open Banana Leaf Asian Bistro in West Glen Town Center… Nick and Joe Romare (Founders Irish Pub, Whiskey River in Ames) worked to open a new Whiskey River this fall in Ankeny.


Good news


Mike LaValle (Embassy Club) proposed building a dock on the Des Moines River near Court Avenue to anchor a ferry boat and light snacks café… Bob Johnson announced his B-Bops burger chain will add a new store in the Galleria near Jordan Creek mall. He also opened a new store on Fleur Drive… Potbelly Sandwich Shop (Chicago) announced it will open outlet stores downtown in the Equitable Building and on Mills Civic Parkway in West Des Moines… The Original Pancake House (Oregon) announced its first Iowa store will open this fall in Ankeny… Global Brew House (suburban St. Louis) opened its first Iowa store in a new strip mall on University in West Des Moines… Hurts Donut Company (Coralville) announced its first 24-7 metro store would open in West Glen Town Center… Firehouse Subs (Florida) opened its fourth area store, on University Avenue in Clive… Smoothie King (New Orleans) opened its first Iowa store in the West Glen Town Center… Marco’s Pizza (Toledo, Ohio), the fastest growing pizza franchise in the United States with 700 stores and plans to hit 1,000 by 2017, announced plans to expand into several parts of the metro… Annie Baldwin (Magnolia) moved to open Blu Toro, an upscale Mexican concept, in the new South Creek Crossing Center in West Des Moines. Get Fit Grill and Scooter’s will also open in the new facility… Jamie Skinner planned a fall opening for Molly’s Cupcakes (Iowa City) with homemade ice cream, brownies, big cakes and pies… Golden Corral took over many Old Country and Ryan’s buffets.


Honors & milestones


CJ Ryherd of Django won the Iowa Mixology Championship’s “People’s Choice” Award. Josh O’Connell from Black Sheep Social Club was the judge’s choice… Smokey D’s BBQ team won Overall Grand Champion at the Sam’s Club National BBQ competition.  Its final score was the highest ever recorded at the National Championships. It won $59,000 and became the only team to ever complete the Grand Slam of Kansas City style BBQ competitions after winning the 2013 American Royal Open, the 2014 Jack Daniels World Championship, and the 2014 King of the Smoker. It also won the 2013 Kingsford Invitational in New York City… Master sportswriter, traveler and food guru John Naughton published his choices as Iowa’s best comfort foods. Local places Crouse Café of Indianola (hot beef sandwich and pie), +39 of Ames and Des Moines (tiramisu) and Cole’s Ice Cream of Slater (pork tenderloins) made his list. So did Pink Poodle of Crescent (prime rib), Casey’s Bakery of Sioux Center (cinnamon roll), Dariette of Fort Dodge (ice cream), Duke’s Poutine at the Clay County Fair, Nutty Bar of Arnold’s Park, Z’s Restaurant & Lounge of Waterloo (German potato soup) and Tastee Inn & Out of Sioux City (tastees and onion chips)… Court Avenue Brewing Company celebrated 20 years of groundbreaking history… Mentalfloss ranked Django’s French fries the best in Iowa… The Los Angeles Times reported on a study by five consumer and public health groups that ranked restaurant chains by their commitments to antibiotic-free meats and dairy. Chipotle and Panera were the only chains graded “A”. Chick-fil-A and Subway each received a “B”. Starbuck’s, KFC, Sonic, Dunkin’ Donuts, Denny’s, Applebee’s, Domino’s, Chili’s, Buffalo Wild Wings, Dairy Queen, Arby’s, Little Caesar’s and Olive Garden all graded “F”… Andrew Mude was named winner of the World Food Prize’s Norman Borlaug Award for Field Research and Application. He was honored for his efforts to provide insurance to agricultural areas in the Horn of Africa, where many families herd cattle, goat, sheep and camels for their income. His work included using satellite data to help herders decrease their vulnerability to droughts.


Categories: The Dish

%d bloggers like this: