Motley Cow Cafe in Iowa City to close this weekend

Iowa City restaurant focused on fresh, local before many others

Motley Cow Cafe in Iowa City on Friday, Jun. 9, 2017. (Stephen Mally/The Gazette)
Motley Cow Cafe in Iowa City on Friday, Jun. 9, 2017. (Stephen Mally/The Gazette)

IOWA CITY — Motley Cow Cafe servers spent a lot of time in 2002 explaining to customers the benefits of local food and a revolving menu that worked with the seasons.

But in the 15 years David Wieseneck has owned the north side Iowa City bistro, “local” has become part of the language and many restaurants are trying to support Iowa or Midwest producers and serve food that is fresh. Wieseneck is thrilled with that change, although it makes it a little harder for restaurants to stand out.

“It’s a very competitive market,” he said.

Wieseneck will serve his last meals at the Motley Cow Saturday as he closes the restaurant to move on to a new adventure. He will be chef at Maggie’s Farm Wood-Fired Pizza, a NewBo City Market favorite that will open a restaurant in July at One University Place in University Heights.

“I’m ready to be relieved of the burden of owning a restaurant,” said Wieseneck, who looks forward to working fewer nights and cooking more for his wife, Sam, and their two children, ages 5 and 10.

The Motley Cow opened in 2000 at 327 E. Market St., where El Banditos now is located. Wieseneck, who worked at the Motley Cow, bought it two years later.

“In 2002, our menu was changing on a weekly basis and really incorporating as much local food as we could,” he said.

This made Motley Cow unusual in the Iowa City restaurant scene, he said. “Contemporary seasonal American food really wasn’t on the map the way it is now.”


The restaurant moved around the corner in 2008, to 160 N. Linn St. There, Wieseneck continued to prepare unique food with fresh ingredients while adding live music and other performances.

Wieseneck and guest chef Drew Burk served a five-course meal to 50 people during the Mission Creek Festival in April. While dining, guests watched vignettes that included music, dance and a multimedia presentation. Last weekend, Motley Cow hosted Hot Tamale Louie, a multimedia performance about a man named Zarif Khan who sold hot tamales in Wyoming and became a legend.

Customers visiting Motley Cow before it closes could listen to the Papsoy Klezmer Orchestra Thursday night or Elizabeth Moen and Dan Padley Friday night.

“We’ve been trying to make this last month and a half a real festival around the guests who have been family to us,” Wieseneck said.

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