New diner takes flight

BY BEN TOWAR | JANUARY 23, 2015 5:00 AM

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Each week, The Daily Iowan will provide an in-depth look at an Iowa City business.

Looking in from the lone window on Dubuque Street, Pullman Bar & Diner almost seems dwarfed, located near the iconic Prairie Lights.

However, venturing inside, one finds Pullman does not need landmarks to make it iconic.

Adorned with hanging lights, red leather booths, a white tile floor, and barstools taken right out of a ’20s speakeasy, Pullman, 17 S. Dubuque St., has an atmosphere meant to make customers feel like Dubuque Street is many miles away.

What is remarkable about Pullman is how native its managers are.

Executive chef Benjamin Smart and co-owner Nate Kaeding, Iowa City West High graduates, found their knack for restaurant management while working at Sluggers, a  now-shuttered bar and grill in Coralville.

After parting ways to pursue different career paths, Smart continued in culinary arts in Seattle, and Kaeding played football for the Iowa Hawkeyes and San Diego Chargers.

Then the two reunited with a business proposition in mind.

Enlisting the help of four other local restaurant owners, including Cory Kent of Red’s Alehouse, 405 N. Dubuque St., North Liberty, the two contributed their expertise on opening a diner right in the cultural heart of Iowa City.

“It’s a unique partnership, and it’s a great partnership, because we each bring our own edge to the team … but we also know that we want the same thing,” Kent said.

Kent, one of the managing partners, noted the team’s excitement to be situated in downtown Iowa City.

He believes Iowa City would like to “strike a nice balance between good eateries, good drinking establishments, and good shops” and is glad to be a part of maintaining such a balance.

Kent said the well-traveled team of chefs, architects, and businessmen each bring a new element of culture to the Pullman table. While striving to be as diverse as each of their experiences, the team also knows how to make Pullman feel like home, he said.

A quick look at Pullman’s menu shows familiar favorites such as steak, turkey clubs, or the well-received Pullman burger, while also sporting unique assortments of imported cheeses or the particularly intriguing dish of roasted bone marrow.

The exposed kitchen reveals each dish in progress.

For options in drinks, Pullman offers a wide range of beers and spirits, including highballs — term that means “full speed ahead” in train-conductor jargon but a carbonated cocktail in the context of Pullman.

Since opening Jan. 4, business at Pullman has been considerable. Contrary to the cutthroat business mentality many people assume among neighboring businesses, Pullman has been well received by both consumers and other competitors alike.

For Jan Weissmiller, the owner of Prairie Lights Bookstore, Pullman’s effect on her business has been nothing but positive.

As Chad Treloar, a bartender at Pullman put it, “flooding waters raises all ships,” and so with the addition of Pullman, the only people who would feel ill toward the new diner would be outside the city limits.

“Business is going better than anyone expected … we all are trying to get away from the negatives of the ‘No. 1 party-school stigma’ by adding good food to Iowa City,” Treloar said.

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