Highway 30 Diner opens in SW Cedar Rapids

A cup of coffee rests on a table at the Highway 30 Diner in Cedar Rapids. (Rebecca F. Miller photos/The Gazette)
A cup of coffee rests on a table at the Highway 30 Diner in Cedar Rapids. (Rebecca F. Miller photos/The Gazette)

When Paul Habhab opened Highway 30 Diner in Cedar Rapids in January, he had his father Paul Habhab Sr. and uncle Hassan Habhab in mind.

They owned Habhab’s Tavern in Fort Dodge for 47 years, and the legacy their restaurant left behind stuck with Paul Habhab.

“My dad was born in 1927, the youngest of 10 kids. There’s an old mentality of just hard work and deserved play. There’s a time for everything,” he said. “He and his friends, they’d meet at these little diners and pack the place and people would be laughing and crying and sharing stories. I think it’s time that we bring back the American diner, the feel of it, the food that came along with it.”

In 2019, the landlord of the space where he would open Highway 30 Diner called him and asked if he was interested in taking over the restaurant, which was formerly a cafe called Rise and Dine.

He decided it was time to get back into the food world. A breakfast spot sounded perfect.

“I love breakfast. It’s probably my favorite meal,” he said. “I just love sausage and pancakes and eggs and smearing it all around with syrup. I love it, I’ll eat it for dinner. I just love breakfast,” he said.

The restaurant opened about seven weeks before the shutdown to fight the spread of the coronavirus. That was challenging for the fledgling business, Habhab said, but also created opportunities. He switched focus from breakfast, where business was falling off, to a dinner menu. Carryout business was booming, to the point where he was on the verge of investing in a drive-up window.

When restaurants started to reopen to dine-in service, however, dinner orders dropped off, so he scraped the drive-up window idea and went back to just serving breakfast and lunch. The restaurant is now open to dine-in customers and still offers carryout, along with delivery through DoorDash.

“What we’re trying to do is diner food, but just do it better. It is breakfast food, but we’re trying to do everything from scratch, nothing frozen,” he said. “Our focus is fresh and quality.”

Along with breakfast, they offer lunch with diner fare like burgers, Reuben sandwiches and gyros.

He said they have four different breading recipes for country fried steak, chicken, a turkey tenderloin and fish sandwich.

He hired chef Brant Wehde to help perfect his recipes. Wehde said he’s particularly proud of the gravy for the biscuits and gravy.

“It took a little bit of time and effort, but we finally made it to the gravy train,” he said. “It’s got lots of herbs, a little bit of garlic and a few secrets.”

“People have hobbies that they can’t necessarily make a living at — that’s not Brant, he’s right where he wants to be,” Habhab said.

“We don’t do anything real fancy-schmanzy here. We just really care about what it is that we’re feeding people,” he said. “A lot of it is an homage to my father and his brother. Habhab’s Tavern was a place where people would come and hang out and congregate, and I’m just kind of looking to replicate that.”

Comments: (319) 398-8339; alison.gowans@thegazette.com

If You Go

l What: Highway 30 Diner

l Where: 4330 16th Ave. SW, Cedar Rapids

l Hours: 7 a.m. to 3 p.m. daily

l Details: (319) 200-3030, hwy30diner.com

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