Downtown lands three new restaurants

BY REBEKAH SONS | JUNE 12, 2013 5:00 AM

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Locals say they welcome the pending arrival of several new restaurants downtown and say Iowa City knows it wants.  

As public and private investment continues in downtown, some restaurateurs are taking note, jumping at the chance to open within the district.

Local officials and business owners note that the key to survival is more than just having a downtown address.

Come early fall, three restaurants are expected to make their débuts, joining the nearly 60 other dining spots downtown. According to the Downtown District, nearly 280 businesses cover approximately 1.2 million square feet of commercial space in downtown and the North Side Marketplace.  

Giardiniera Chicago Kitchen

Giardiniera Chicago Kitchen, a Chicago-style restaurant, has been in operation since November 2012 at 227 E. First St. under the direction of brothers Robert and David Meyers. But a smaller, downtown location, they say, can help refine and expand their business. And it’ll be just in time for Hawkeye football tailgating, they said.

“While there are dozens of eateries, all of which have their loyal fans and customers, we feel our fresh approach toward Chicago food will be welcomed and enable us to establish our niche,” David Meyers said.

Despite the lack of an announced location and unknown investment costs, the brothers said they expect to open by early September, and they told the DI in a June 5 interview that they would located “in the immediate downtown” area, “conveniently located in proximity to other downtown attractions.”

Teddy’s Bigger Burgers

Teddy’s Bigger Burgers, a Hawaii-based 1950s-style hamburger and shake restaurant, is expected open at 324 E. Washington St., according to city building permits. The establishment obtained the permit on May 15. According to company’s website, the restaurant is to open on a yet-to-be-announced June date. Teddy’s currently operates in 13 locations; the Iowa City branch will be among four new U.S. establishments.

Pizza Bros.

The closing of Sbarro Italian Eatery’s Old Capitol Town Center location in May is now being replaced by Pizza Bros., a “new-style” pizza restaurant, the new tenant said. Although the owner declined to speak with The Daily Iowan, he confirmed that the pizza restaurant will open Aug. 1, unaffiliated with the other seven pizza-oriented venues downtown.

“I think it’s a lot of food places, but I don’t know what the food demand is,” City Councilor Connie Champion said. “It seems to be insatiable, but I’m glad they’re coming in and taking a chance. What else can you do?”

Lee Henneberry, the manager at Iron Hawk, 122 E. Washington St., said that in recent years, as the number of restaurants downtown has grown, the quality has improved. 

“Some will make it and some won’t, but it depends on the quality of the food that they’re bringing,” he said. “I think the residents of the town are getting tired of restaurants only catering to college kids and cheap food and really want a quality product. So I think restaurants that can provide that will last.”

However, Henneberry said, he believes it’s hard for businesses other than restaurants and bars to survive downtown, given the high rents.

Nancy Bird, the executive director of the Downtown District, said she doesn’t believe restaurants have any advantage over retail but said additional retailers are needed.

“… We’re hoping to add more diversity in retail to our mix, that’s one of our goals …” she said. “We already have a strong establishment of food venues, so they’re entering an environment that is already competitive.”

But the owners of Giardiniera Chicago Kitchen say that dining competition downtown is positive for their business bottom line.

“There is no doubt that downtown Iowa City has established itself as a dining and entertainment destination,” they said. “We are excited about being a part of the synergy.”

Giardiniera Chicago Kitchen
• Operated by brothers Robert and David Meyers, serving Chicago-style food based on their grandmother’s recipes.
• Hope to expand on catering, event planning, retail product development with a downtown location set to open in early September.
• Formerly located at 227 E. First St.
Sources: Co-owners Robert and David Meyers

Teddy’s Bigger Burgers
• A Hawaii-based 1950s-inspired hamburger and shake restaurant chain
• Set to open at 324 E. Washington St. in June.
• Operates a total of 13 locations
Sources: City of Iowa City and Teddy’s Bigger Burgers

Pizza Bros.
• Will open in the former Sbarro space in the Old Capitol Town Center Aug. 1.
• To be a “new-style” pizza establishment, unaffiliated with the seven other pizza-oriented establishments downtown.  
Sources: Old Capitol Town Center general manager Kevin Digmann and anonymous owner

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