116 3rd St SE
Cedar Rapids, Iowa 52401
Despite continued challenges, many restaurants didn’t hesitate to start new ventures
After 2020 delivered an unprecedented blow to restaurants everywhere starting with state-ordered closures for the then-novel coronavirus pandemic, 2021 was not without its difficulties.
But despite the new and compounding challenges of 2021 — labor shortages, supply chain disruptions and rising business costs, to name a few — a substantial number of new restaurants have opened in the Corridor.
Here are some of the food stories Gazette readers liked the most this year.
Cedar Rapids was added to the growing list of American cities to get MrBeast Burger service — a ghost kitchen started by viral YouTuber Jimmy Donaldson.
The brand, operating out of Red Robin in Cedar Rapids, uses existing kitchens to fill orders for burgers, fries and grilled cheese sandwiches through delivery service apps only.
2. Scoop Coop ice cream and The Hip-stir open
You all screamed for ice cream, at least figuratively, as you flocked to Scoop Coop at LP Street Food’s patio in the summer. Later in the year, many of you were intrigued by the eclectic menu and riveting interior design of The Hip-stir as it finally opened up its dining room in September.
Both places are part of the Fun Not Fancy Restaurant Group which expanded rapidly in 2021, including the recent Cliff’s Dive Bar in the former Grin ‘N Goose space in downtown Cedar Rapids. In 2022, the group plan’s to continue the momentum with Taco Gato.
Barrel House, a small Iowa-based chain with locations in Davenport and Dubuque, announced it would open a location on Tower Terrace Road in Marion in April. The location, which initially planned its opening in the summer, didn’t open until Dec. 7.
Barrel House’s delayed opening was just one example of delays that became part of the new normal for most restaurants this year, as restaurants face delays for everything from chicken wings to kitchen equipment and building supplies back-ordered for months.
Barrel House’s downtown Cedar Rapids location, which was announced in June, remains on track. Chris Posey, director of marketing and franchise sales, said that location is under construction and should open early next year at 102 Second St., where La Cantina Bar & Grill used to be.
As autumn started to set in, Tavern Blue opened at 805 Second St. in Coralville to give diners a warm escape with mini golf, brick-oven style pizza and more.
5. BurgerFiend expands, then contracts
In March, BurgerFiend opened a second location in the building where it originally started at 2020 16th Ave. SW in Cedar Rapids. It was initially located there from 2014 to 2017 before moving to Center Point Road NE, where the old Spring House restaurant used to be.
But the all-beef brand’s time as a two-branch business was short-lived.
Three months after opening on the Southwest side, BurgerFiend closed its Center Point Road NE location. Their marketing manager said the restaurant expected a resurgence in business at the Center Point Road location that didn’t materialize as strongly as anticipated.
Seventy-one years after her great-aunt Mary Ann Drahos closed The Eat Shop in Cedar Rapids, Cheryl Maloney brought her recipes for pecan rolls, kolaches, cookies, pies and more back to the public with a bakery by the same name in Solon.
The Chicago native’s business, which started from home, “caught on like wildfire,” prompting her to open the storefront in August.
Locals certainly have demonstrated they have a sweet tooth — the bakery goes through 300 pounds of flour and 90 pounds of Irish butter every week.
After a ketogenic diet changed his life, Mo Nasr wanted to make its benefits available to anyone he could.
After making ketogenic meals at home for employees from his other business became unfeasible, he opened The Keto Kitchen at 116 E. Washington St., which held its grand opening in March.
“It’s not a very easy diet to perfect, and the food is very hard to make and make stable because it doesn’t use flour,” Nasr told The Gazette in April. “We just want to teach people the knowledge of keto and show them it’s doable, it’s sustainable.”
In May, Willie Ray Fairley told The Gazette that his prior acts of generosity were just the beginning after being named one of Fortune Magazine’s 50 Greatest World Leaders for 2021.
The owner of Willie Ray’s Q Shack on Blairs Ferry Rd. NE in Cedar Rapids has put his money where his mouth is since he became known for feeding hungry locals in the aftermath of the 2020 derecho.
In February, he went to Texas to help victims of the ice storm, where he spent a substantial portion of a $25,000 grant he received last year from Discover Card’s “Eat It Forward” program to feed strangers. In September, he went to Louisiana to feed Hurricane Ida victims.
In December, he didn’t even think twice about packing up to help those ravaged by tornadoes in Kentucky.
“It’s more of an automatic thing I want to do. When people don’t have places to turn to, someone has to step up and get those guys something,” he said. “If you lost your whole home, the least someone can do is feed you. I’m not a carpenter, so I can’t build a home, but I can feed you while someone else does.”
More than 18 years after they opened Japanese fusion restaurant Takanami, John Lieu and Andy Diep entered a new venture with Ramen Belly, opening at 1010 Martin St. in Iowa City in April.
The fast-casual dining concept offers a specialized take on Ramen alongside poke, rice bowls and other Asian offerings.
Lord Stephen Range opened his cloud kitchen in Cedar Rapids to offer birria tacos through a delivery-only service out of a new facility near Lindale Mall at 4444 First Ave. NE, Suite 3001.
After two months cooking from home, mounting sales levels were a sign that the food was popular enough for him to work out of another kitchen. He started offering tacos at the Rapids Foods cloud kitchen in September.
Range previously worked with Ali Mason, the man known as “Taco God” who helped popularize birria tacos in Cedar Rapids, before parting ways over disagreements in December 2020. In May, Mason opened The Hype Bar & Grill with Rich Burdine at the former Southside Steakhouse on Sixth Ave. SW.
Mason told The Gazette that he parted ways with Burdine in December and was no longer working at The Hype.
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