Ground Floor: Restaurant offers fresh food on the fly

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With nearly two decades of coffee brewing experience under her belt, Java House founder and owner Tara Cronbaugh earlier this year decided to try her hand in the restaurant business.

“I thought, ‘What a nice way to compliment coffee than to add something fresh and made on the fly,’” Cronbaugh said.

The 39-year-old entrepreneur always has found inspiration for new ventures while traveling — she developed her passion for coffee and a business concept for the Java House during visits to Berkeley, Santa Monica and San Francisco.

So when Cronbaugh recently found herself exploring the East Coast, chocked full of fresh-made soup and salad joints, she formulated a new food-centered business plan around a healthy and transparent menu.

Heirloom Salad Company — a soup, salad, sandwich and pasta establishment that offers customers the opportunity to select ingredients and watch them prepared — debuted on Memorial Day in the space adjacent Cronbaugh’s downtown Iowa City flagship Java House, at 211½ E. Washington St.

“I own the building, and my spot had come up for rent, so I thought, ‘Maybe it’s time to try this out,’” Cronbaugh said.

The restaurant features made-from-scratch dressings, sauces, breads and soups as well as fresh and local ingredients that make up sandwiches as well as salad and pasta toppings.

“People love the ability to choose,” Cronbaugh said, adding that the sandwiches have been hotter than expected. “And we make gallons and gallons of soup a day …. We are super excited for winter. We have 50 different soup recipes we can make.”

Later this month, Cronbaugh plans to expand Heirloom’s offerings to include breakfast. She’ll roll out a steel-cut oatmeal bar, breakfast sandwiches and eventually omelets, biscuits and gravy and pancakes.

“That’s a big deal for us,” she said.

Heirloom also now has a room that private parties can reserve for up to 20 people. And, within 30 days, Heirloom will debut online ordering so customers can choose their food and pay online and pick up their orders from a refrigerated case.

“You will be able to just grab it and walk out the door,” she said.

Cronbaugh said the new business has helped her maximum her resources — the kitchen used for the Java House’s baked goods is now tapped for other scratch cooking, for example.

Still, she has found, you can’t please everyone.

“We had a woman come in and ask for chicken fingers,” Cronbaugh said. “We have a lot of stuff, but no chicken fingers.”

Owner: Tara Cronbaugh

Company: Heirloom Salad Company

Address: 211 E. Washington St., Iowa City

Phone: (319) 338-1300


Hours: 10 a.m. to 9 p.m., Monday through Sunday.

Staff size: About 25, including cooking and baking staff

Favorite menu item: “I do the chili teriyaki on the pasta bar. It is my hidden gem.”

Know a business that’s been open less than a year that should be considered for “The Ground Floor”? Contact Vanessa Miller at

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