CALAMITY, senseless vandalism and a retreat of high-end restaurants

By Jim Duncan

The cusp period between late 2017 and early 2018 was calamitous for the food industry. While corn and soybean
prices fluctuated within acceptable limits, the growth of niche market commodities soared. First-world lifestyles
and new popular diets raised the price of mostly Third World staples like lentils, chickpeas, avocados, asparagus,
quinoa, amaranth, teff, farro, spelt and kamut. Some groups predicted shortages of these foods in countries in the Andes, Africa, India, Pakistan and even Mexico. People who depend upon these low-priced foods were reportedly priced out. The criticism of these unintended consequences of vegan and Paleo diets got really ugly in Great Britain, where death threats were reported by critics.

Iowa hit the international news wire this winter when a 12-year-old and a 13-year-old massacred half a million bees in Sioux City. Wild Hill Honey Farm owners said the vandals had smashed every hive and killed every bee, causing $60,000 in damage and wiping them out of their business. Police later arrested the vandals, charging them with felonious criminal mischief, agriculture animal offenses and burglary.

Meanwhile a federal appeals court ruling struck down an Idaho law outlawing undercover investigations of
meatpacking plants and livestock facilities. Iowans and animal welfare groups worried about ramifications in Iowa. The U.S. 9th District Court of Appeals said parts of Idaho’s “ag gag” law violated the U.S. Constitution’s First
Amendment protecting free speech.

Locally the restaurant scene seemed to recognize that there is such a thing as overbuilding with several top-end
restaurants going out of business or closing to reorganize their battle plans.

The Bad News

Goldfinch, a fresh and local supporter on Court Avenue closed. Plans called for a complete new concept in the
popular space… +39, the Italian restaurant from Ames, closed its Locust Avenue store. It remained open in Ames… Marlene’s at Sevastapol Station, a restaurant with strong fans, but apparently not enough of them, closed its store on S.E. Hartford Avenue… Salt of the Hearth closed for a period of time in February after opening in November 2017. Their website said they would be open for Valentine’s Day but were revamping their concept… Django, one of Des Moines’ favorite restaurants after a decade in the Hotel Fort Des Moines, shut down in February because the hotel is planning a remodeling that could last years. Django owners plan to move elsewhere downtown, “some place a little smaller.” That move couldbe announced by the time this is published… Steve Wasson closed his much-loved  Woody’s BBQ on Cottage Grove. He said he simply wanted to move closer to his grandkids in the Southwest. He is selling Woody’s… Two different franchisees closed two Pita Pit (Canada) stores, one in Des Moines and one in Clive.

The Good News

Last year went out with a flurry of new restaurants opening. Among them— Pho Shobu (8950 University Ave., West Des Moines) with laab, lamb, crispy duck and steaks in addition to the usual Vietnamese favorites; Lzaza Indo-Pak Cuisine (1409 23rd St.) with a $10 daily lunch buffet that includes tandoori treats; Hana Ramen Sushi (7450 Bridgewood Blvd., West Des Moines) with blue fin tuna and toro on the sushi menu along with the usual fare; Range Grill + Golf (11865 Hickman Road, Urbandale), an all prime steakhouse with elk and bison specialties plus six simulated golf ranges; Billy Vee’s (304 5th St., West Des Moines) a southern Italian style restaurant with pistachio encrusted Brie and three styles of gnocchi; Gastro Grub & Pub (1378 E. Hickman Road, Waukee) with creative ideas like Steak de Burgo poutine, waffle cone mashed potatoes and buttermilk fried chicken; Chalet Restaurant & Bar (Valley West Mall) which manages a family ambience with white tablecloths and antler chandeliers; BeerStyles Taproom & Gastropub, which brings a record nine kinds of poutine to town and SALT of the Hearth (both at 5513 Mills Civic Parkway, West Des Moines); Maria’s Mexican Food (5405 Douglas Ave.) a taqueria with a big condiments bar; Everest Indian Nepalese (6401 S.E. 14th St.) with superb momos and Indian cuisine; Nothing Bundt Cakes, a Las Vegas chain (1255 N.W. 128th St., Clive) serving fiercely frosted decadence in many sizes and flavors; Mandarin Noodle House (8769 North Park Court, Johnston) the latest edition from the Liu family with curries and Japanese
dishes besides Chinese noodles; and ShortE’s BBQ (8805 Chambery Blvd., Johnston) which is that most
marvelous of smokehouse things — an all wood fired barbecue… Did you think that Des Moines already had enough deluxe burger joints? The marketers at Hy-Vee don’t think so, and they know better than most of us. They opened their first Wahlburger’s restaurant, in the Mall of America, and announced plans for 25 others. Their first Iowa store will open in the Jordan Creek area this summer. The company’s Market Grilles will also begin carrying the Wahlburger’s burgers… Former Cyclone and NFL quarterback Seneca Wallace announced his first Wingstop (Dallas) restaurant will open in Ames in March, with a second location following this summer in Des Moines… Another chicken fast food franchise, Raising Cane’s (Baton Rouge), announced a new store on Mills Civic Parkway… Casey’s announced it would add more than 100 new jobs in its Ankeny headquarters…Spencer Quick moved his food truck Sweet Swirls Rolled Ice Cream into a brick-and-mortar store in Ankeny. His Thai style ice creams are sold on cold plates that range in temperature from zero to negative 18 degrees. The cold temperatures add a creamier texture.


Palmer’s Deli & Market has opened in its new Urbandale location in Urban Town Center at 86th Street and Douglas
Avenue, a short distance from its smaller, previous location also on Douglas. Palmer’s evolved many years ago from the purchase of Rapaport’s Deli, the local pioneer of serving huge deli sandwiches.

Honors and Accolades

Moe Cason of Des Moines was named a judge for the $100,000 World Food Championships. ♦


Categories: The Dish

%d bloggers like this: