Business

Restaurants, retail are alive at a crossroads of districts

Lightworks Cafe, Boston Fish Market and Treasures among shops tucked between Downtown and NewBo

A lunch crowd fills Lightworks in Cedar Rapids on Thursday, February 15, 2018. (Cliff Jette/The Gazette)
A lunch crowd fills Lightworks in Cedar Rapids on Thursday, February 15, 2018. (Cliff Jette/The Gazette)
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CEDAR RAPIDS — The intersection of Eighth Avenue SE and Fifth Street SE in Cedar Rapids is a heavily trafficked one. It’s a tiny pocket of Cedar Rapids that falls at the crossroads of three areas, tucked as it is between the city’s downtown core and the MedQuarter medical district, and just north of the NewBo District.

Yet the area is picking up with dining activity, both new and old.

 

Boston Fish Market, at 804 Fifth St. SE, for one, has been a fixture in the neighborhood for 76 years. The business got its start as a fish market supplying fresh seafood — wholesale and retail — in Cedar Rapids, before starting to bread and fry its own fish to serve to factory workers heading home from work back in the 1950s.

In 1976, the fresh fish portion of the business closed, but the owners have continued to operate the restaurant. They recently expanded the restaurant — now with a liquor license.

“Boston Fish is on the way home for many customers, and they stop in and get a couple pounds of fish to take home with them and our homemade potato salad and they just throw it on the table for an evening meal,” said owner Joe Zoll, who purchased the business in 1992.

This is the second Lenten season Boston Fish has operated solely as a restaurant and Zoll said it’s an extremely busy time.

"Really the whole area has developed. The whole neighborhood feels brand-new.”

- Joe Zoll

Owner, Boston Fish Market

 

“A year ago, we started offering our fresh fish that we cook here, and we got a liquor license so now people can come get a drink after work,” he said. “We are open six days a week now and are open from 10 a.m. to midnight.

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“That was one of the biggest complaints from our customers that we weren’t open enough.”

Having been in business for decades, Boston Fish has seen plenty of change, but one largely defining factor for the neighborhood, said Zoll, was the 2008 flood.

“We had 18 feet of water in this building, so we had to redo it all and everything is brand-new. And really the whole area has developed. The whole neighborhood feels brand-new.”

Zoll noted that expansions of surrounding medical buildings and the boom in growth in NewBo has helped expand his customer base.

 

Manager Lenore Zoll said they really hope to start reaching the bicycling community.

“We want to respect those 76 years of being open,” she added. “Yes, we’ve remodeled and added the bar, but it is the Boston Fish people remember as a kid, too. We have the same great fish. It’s just exciting to bring in a new generation of customers.”

Just a block away from Boston Fish Market is Treasures Quality Resale Shoppe, at 405 Eighth Ave. SE. The shop, whose proceeds benefit Bridgehaven Pregnancy Support Center, moved into the neighborhood a couple years ago.

The store originally opened in 1994 in a much smaller location, and Manager Julie Lane said she has had nothing but positive feedback since moving to the larger and busier location.

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“We have four times the space here,” she said, noting that they have not only expanded but have also made some other changes to capture new customers from the surrounding areas. “We are open until 7 p.m. on Thursday evenings and we are hoping we can draw some customers who head down to NewBo for their Thursday evening events during the summer.

“We’d love to hand out coupons to people participating in the neighborhood walks organized there.”

Lane said her staff at Treasures also has been active connecting with their retail neighbors. During Lent, for example, they are partnering with Boston Fish Market to offer discounts to customers who visit both locations.

“People have actually pulled me aside and thanked me for not opening in NewBo because they know we need more than a block of coffee shops.”

- Nathan Graham

Co-owner, Lightworks Cafe

 

On the other side of Eighth Avenue and approximately across the street from Clanceys Keg, brothers Nathan and Matthew Graham opened Lightworks Café, at 501 Seventh Ave. SE, back in May 2017. Situated in an eclectic garage-like space at the back of the Benz Beverage Depot building, Nathan said it seemed like an ideal spot for their new eatery.

“We looked at so many places all over, including in NewBo, Czech Village and even in Mount Vernon,” he said. “This space just felt right because we just went into this knowing we’d either have a coffee shop with a full menu or we’d be a restaurant with really good coffee.”

 

The Graham brothers subsequently put in a lot of sweat equity to build out the space to create the current ambience.

“I think we have some of the best coffee in the city, and we also have a full menu, which makes us a little bit unique,” Nathan said.

Most menu items are made from scratch, from buns and biscuits to coffee flavorings, he said.

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“And I would say everything on our menu is approachable and not super fancy, either.”

The response to Lightworks thus far has been very positive, Nathan said.

“We’ve seen growth every week and we’ve been holding steady for January and February, which I’m told is traditionally a slower time for retail. I think part of that is there’s a bit of a black hole right here for unique food,” Nathan said.

“We are happy we can be a place where people can come and sit forever or where they can also get carryout.”

 

Graham does admit that their location and getting people to find Lightworks has been a hurdle.

“But once we get someone here, we get them back,” he added.

Graham said their customer base reflects their location on the cusp of the MedQuarter.

“We have a copious amount of doctors and nurses that stop in here,” he said, noting that some are waiting at the door at 5:58 a.m. before Lightworks opens at 6 a.m.

“People are stoked that we are doing this,” he said of opening LightWorks where they did. “People have actually pulled me aside and thanked me for not opening in NewBo because they know we need more than a block of coffee shops.”

And talk of future investments in the MedQuarter and other surrounding core neighborhoods excites the Lightworks team.

“We just love the fact that people are responding to us,” Graham said. “And I hope there’s more little shops coming up in this area.”

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