UI alumnus a successful restaurateur


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Jack Piper’s schedule is full.

The Burlington native is a few days away from opening a new restaurant, and he said everything must be calculated carefully — from moving tables to figuring out seating arrangements and finishing even the most minute and mundane details.

The new restaurant, Basta, will be the third eating establishment Piper has opened in Iowa City. He and his business partner, James Adrian, own Atlas World Grill and Jimmy Jack’s Rib Shack; Basta is scheduled to be open by next week.

Bringing a new touch to Piper and Adrian’s business is Brady McDonald, an Iowa City native who worked his way up the ladder at Atlas as a chef to become the third owner of Basta.

“This is a collaboration among the three of us,” Piper said. “And the centerpiece is the pizza.”

McDonald spent several months learning from Italian chefs in Florence, Italy. He said he feels U.S. citizens are behind the times in how they view Italian food, comparing them with foreign countries that watch movies from the ’80s and play decades-old video-game systems as if they were brand new technologies.

McDonald’s accomplishments mean a lot to Piper, who said that employees don’t like working in an environment without opportunities to grow. He said he strives to offer a workplace in which there are no limits for dedicated and hard-working employees.

“There’s really not a ceiling with me,” the 42-year-old said. “Brady started as a cook and now owns his own restaurant. That’s something I’m very proud of.”

Piper attributes much of his success as a restaurateur to Iowa City itself, and he said his model might not work in a town such as Cedar Rapids.

“Consumers here embrace independent businesses,” he said. “They want creativity, and they have high standards.”

He came to Iowa City in 1990 to study three-dimensional design and artistry at the UI and worked in local restaurants with Adrian before founding Atlas in 2000. He said he puts a lot of himself and his studies into what he does with the restaurants, from the design of the interior to the way the establishment is managed.

He doesn’t want to steal the spotlight, though, he said, and he acknowledged that his partners are very important to the business as well — Piper handles the wine and atmosphere, but Adrian and McDonald also deal with their share of the business.

Piper’s mother, Peggy, who runs the books at Atlas, said she considers her son’s tenacity and flexibility to be two of his greatest strengths.

“He just gets right in there and does it, and he never gives up,” she said. “Some of the others would hold back, but he wouldn’t — he’s more of a leader.”

McDonald gave Piper’s leadership abilities even more credit, saying Atlas’ stability in the Iowa City food scene is a testament to the way Piper and Adrian run their businesses.

“[They’re] a staple to Iowa City with the eclectic cuisine that I can only hope to emulate,” he said. “They’ve been there a long time, and they’re going to be there a lot longer.”

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