Local eateries serve on

BY ADAM SALAZAR | JUNE 29, 2009 7:21 AM

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Cherry oak tables, fine white linen, charming even to the most sophisticated aficionado, and an endless sea of sparkling glass awaiting the splash of an exquisitely sweet white or a profound red.

Chef’s Table, 223 E. Washington St., is the latest restaurant to open in downtown Iowa City, offering rustic classical French cuisine with a cleaner aesthetic and a lighter taste.

To some, maybe, Chef Eric McDowell’s vision could not have came at a worse time. Nationally, Americans are eating out less since the economy took a big hit last year, and as the lingering recession continues, some restaurants will be hit the hardest.

In February, Moody’s Investors Service listed 10 companies that would unlikely survive the recession. Three were big-name chains: Krispy Kreme, Sbarro Italian Eatery, and Texas restaurant conglomerate Landry’s Restaurants.

And restaurants have heard methods to avoid that predicament. At the end of 2008, the National Restaurant Association suggested myriad menu trends for eateries to stay afloat, such as healthy kids’ meals, local produce, scaled-back lists, and deals.

Kurt Friese, the owner of Devotay, 117 N. Linn St., paid attention. Though featuring intimate ambiance and abundant drapery in dull, Spanish red, the restaurant offers deals that sound on par with the college crowd.

Devotay adopted half-priced Tuesdays for wine, lowered its winter season menu prices $2, and tacked on a 10 percent discount on any meal or drink for patrons who ride bikes to the restaurant.

Friese said he hasn’t seen a dead day since Sept. 11, 2001, and he is confident he will withstand any economic waves with support from a strong, community-based clientele. His establishment distinguishes itself with local produce, for example. He buys from roughly three dozen local farmers from within a 180-mile radius of Iowa City.

“I think that people appreciate knowing where their food came from, shaking the hand that raised it,” Friese said.

Indeed, the national economy has yet to disrupt wallets and purses in Iowa City, buoyed by an economic base in the UI, the state’s largest public employer.

McDowell said he is on a different level from that of the downtown watering holes, notably restaurants that morph into bars when the sun sets. While not selling alcohol in mass quantities the restaurant currently goes through 30 to 40 bottles a night since it opened on May 12. He said he isn’t afraid of the financial crunch.

“Iowa City never turns down,” he said. “There’s an unique crowd here that supports restaurants.”

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