Richard Drager and Brandon Tillman have a habit of finishing each other’s thoughts. That makes sense — they’ve been friends for 12 years, and recently opened a business together, Crisp Cedar Rapids. The salad stand opened this month in NewBo City Market.
Along with signature salads like the Crazy Goat — spinach, goat cheese, honey crisp apple, craisins, walnuts and Dijon mustard vinaigrette — or the Coastal — romaine lettuce, red onion, grape tomatoes, feta, cucumber, kalamata olives and balsamic vinaigrette — people can build their own salads and sandwiches, made with bread from fellow NewBo vendor Rustic Hearth. The menu may change seasonally, and they hope to add soups in the future.
Tillman said on its face, a salad seems simple, but they take care with the details.
“Every ingredient should be fork-sized,” Drager said. “And there should be a color pop. We want it to look good, as well, something that grabs everyone’s eye.”
“You want good, crisp, dry salad that’s not soggy and wilted,” Tillman added.
That’s why a salad spinner is a vital part of their kitchen. Dressings are made in-house. They are looking for local growers for produce.
Tillman’s wife, Kristen, has celiac disease and is dairy-free, and when Drager’s wife, Mellette, recently was diagnosed gluten and dairy sensitivities, an idea sparked for a restaurant that could cater to them. They also looked at the offerings inside NewBo City Market and felt they could fill a gap in the lineup. For now, they are open seven days a week, as opposed to the normal market hours of just Thursday to Sunday.
“There’s a lot of great food here, but we wanted to give something lighter,” Drager said. “We thought, boy, there’s a void in the market here.”
Drager left a job in banking to open the cafe, and Tillman still owns a lawn care company, Iowa Mow, but both have experience in the food industry; they met working in a Japanese restaurant.
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“This is my first love, the kitchen,” Tillman said. “I have no creative restrictions here.”
If the NewBo venture goes well, they hope to expand in the future.
“We want to be good enough to create jobs,” Tillman said.
They both said they want others to know fulfilling entrepreneurial dreams is possible with hard work and determination. Drager graduated from Metro High School and went to college after a hiatus, earning a business degree from Mount Mercy.
“Life is full circle. I’m starting and planning a career literally a stone’s throw from where my academic life was saved,” he said.
That’s part of the reason being part of the NewBo neighborhood was important to them, Tillman added.
“For kids from this area, that means a lot,” he said.
l Comments: (319) 398-8339; firstname.lastname@example.org
If you go
l What: Crisp Cedar Rapids
l Where: NewBo City Market, 1100 Third St. SE, Cedar Rapids
l Hours: 10 a.m. to 4 p.m. Sunday, 10 a.m. to 2 p.m. Monday to Wednesday, 10 a.m. to 8 p.m. Thursday and Friday, 10 a.m. to 6 p.m. Saturday
l Details: (319) 669-8880, crispcr.com