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After fire, Riley's Cafe breakfast to be served at Daisy's Garage

Downtown Cedar Rapids eatery closed indefinitely

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CEDAR RAPIDS — After a three-alarm fire closed Riley’s Cafe in downtown Cedar Rapids Tuesday, the owner of the popular eatery is taking his breakfast menu on the road.

Actually, just down the street.

Richard Pankey, who owns the cafe at 836 First Ave. NE, says beginning Friday, Riley’s breakfast menu — which includes omelets and waffles — is to be served from 6:30-11 a.m. daily at Daisy’s Garage and Filling Station, 1117 First Ave. SE.

Daisy’s, also owned by Pankey, is to continue serving its regular lunch and dinner menu — which features seafood items — from 11 a.m. to 10 p.m. daily.

Tuesday’s fire resulted in significant damage to Riley’s Cafe.

More than two dozen firefighters responded to the scene about 3:35 p.m. Tuesday. Pankey said an overheated vent behind the dishwasher caught fire and damaged the wall behind the dishwasher and burned holes in the ceiling and roof of the building.

One Cedar Rapids firefighter was taken to St. Luke’s Hospital for a heat-related illness as temperatures on Tuesday reached 90 degrees. The firefighter was treated and released, said Cedar Rapids public safety spokesman Greg Buelow.

Riley’s remains closed indefinitely, and Pankey said a damage estimate has not yet been determined. On Wednesday morning, employees were clearing supplies out of the restaurant.

Pankey and building owner John Albert said it is too soon to tell if the building can be repaired and the restaurant reopened at that location.

“We’re trying to determine what it might take to build it back, if it’s feasible,” Pankey said.

Riley’s also has locations at 2727 Sixth St. SW, 2010 Sylvia Ave. NE and 576 Boyson Road NE. But the First Avenue location was special, Pankey said.

“This was really our preferred location to be,” Pankey said. “If it’s at all feasible, we’d like to come back to this spot. It should be a restaurant for the community.”

According to Gazette archives, Tommy Haddy opened Tommy’s Cafe at the location in 1974. In 1983, Tommy’s Restaurant was incorporated by Thomas John Haddy and Nancy Virginia Haddy.

Bill Woodburn opened Willy Woodburn’s in 1994 and a decade later, Phillip Pankey opened Diner on First in 2004. After four months, he changed the name to Riley’s Cafe, naming it after his son, Riley.

If he does decide to rebuild, Richard Pankey said reconstruction would take several months.

But he’s not giving up.

“It was so iconic,” he said. “People loved the fact that it was a little diner, and it was cramped and crowded and busy. We want to continue the employment for the staff and providing food service for customers.”

Pankey said he is already brainstorming alternative locations if the building is not salvageable, including a possible spot in Marion.

Albert, who also owns and operates Citywide Cleaners next to Riley’s, said his business is reopened and only sustained minimal smoke damage.

Leila Dauenbaugh, a cleaner with fire damage restoration company Servpro that is addressing smoke damage at Moose McDuffy’s, next door to Riley’s, said she hopes to be finished with cleanup there by Friday morning.

Pankey said he still is thankful no one was hurt in the fire and is trying to keep a positive attitude.

“It’s not what happens to you in life, it’s how you take it,” he said.

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