IOWA CITY — Jacob Pajunen wants people to know that MELK Diner & Cereal Bar is about more than just cereal.
Sure, customers can get a bowl of Fruit Loops or Cap’n Crunch — or have them mixed into milkshakes — but they also can sink their teeth into dishes such as chicken and waffles, breakfast burritos or English muffin egg sandwiches.
“It’s the food I enjoy,” owner Pajunen said. “It’s greasy American food.”
MELK opened Dec. 13 in downtown Iowa City. Pajunen graduated from Iowa City High School in 2015 and has worked in business since then. He opened MELK with investor Qiu Aiwu, who lives in China; his son was a student at the University of Iowa and befriended Pajunen.
“I was always interested in starting a diner downtown,” Pajunen said. “We were trying to think of something cool that would have color and be fun and fit the space.”
The diner does not serve alcohol and focuses on comfort food served quickly, Pajunen said.
The menu is limited for now, with the potential to grow as they learn what people want. They also plan to add late night hours in the future and be open in the mornings starting next week.
“Breakfast seems to be ‘in’ right now,” marketing lead Seth Ferreira said, citing recently opened Iowa City diners Dandy Lion and Goosetown. “I think it will be nice, especially when we’re open late, for people to be able to come in and get waffles.”
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Chef Gabriel Caballero, who previously worked at Big Grove, designed the menu. He said he is passionate about vegan food, and aims to have vegan substitution options on the menu, such as tofu instead of eggs in the breakfast burrito. The cereal bar is available with both dairy and a variety of non-dairy milks. They also make their English muffins in-house and offer a gluten free option.
“We’re trying to be very accommodating to dietary restrictions,” Caballero said.
The space previously housed the restaurant Food Republic. Pajunen worked with Ferreira on the interior design, focusing on a minimalistic, bright aesthetic with bright splashes of blue, yellow and red paint.
“I was inspired a little bit by Ikea’s cafe — it’s slick and simple, fresh and airy,” Ferreira said. “We want it to feel like a hip apartment you wouldn’t mind spending time in.”
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If You Go
• What: MELK Diner & Cereal Bar
• Where: 116 E. Washington St., Iowa City
• Hours: noon to 10 p.m. daily; hours to expand soon
• Details: (319) 519-6314, melkdiner.com