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The Dish

The year of oblivious volatility


The year 2019 began with a big bang of volatility. The rate of restaurant openings in the metro increased almost 50 percent in the second half of 2018 compared to the first half. Restaurant closings were also up from a year ago, leading many to suggest that the area is overbuilt and oblivious to the fact. Labor shortages in kitchens were so severe that some places were paying dishwashers twice the minimum wage.

The judiciary got involved in the food industry in January with two interesting decisions, one defying the industrial agriculture fountainhead and another cracking down on poachers, of ginseng. Federal Senior Judge James Gritzner ruled that Iowa’s “ag gag” law is unconstitutional, violating the First Amendment’s free speech protections. He granted a summary judgment to a group that sued over the law. The Iowa law, backed by industrial agriculture, says people who lie to gain access or employment at a farm operation, with an intent to take action not authorized by the owner, could be charged with a serious misdemeanor, potentially carrying a year of jail time. Additional violations are considered an aggravated misdemeanor, carrying up to two years of jail time. Look for more hideous videos of animal abuse to leak out on the Internet.

A Jackson county man was caught by DNA officers on public property with 108 ginseng roots. He was charged with failing to leave the entire plant intact, as required by law. The poacher has been charged with five counts of digging ginseng within a state-managed area and five counts of not leaving the tops of the ginseng plants intact. He faces a fine of $1,950. The price of wild ginseng ($500-600 a pound) is 10 times the price of cultivated ginseng, so poaching is a problem.

Beef prices soared to a 10-year high as the U.S. economy continued to grow while Canadian, Mexican and Chinese demand for American beef soared. Despite this, beef specializing restaurants led the way in local restaurant openings. Two Brazilian steakhouses, a Paleo café, three new barbecues, a bar specializing in Kobe style beef, and, of course, several new sports bars specializing in really big burgers seemed oblivious to higher beef prices.

Sugar prices recovered slightly from last year’s 11-year low. Oil price declines were credited. U.S. sugar imports are so highly taxed that consumers here barely noticed price relief though. Still, more big name soft drink makers, led by Coca Cola, entered the cane sugar market long dominated by craft beverage makers and Pepsi.

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The Good News

The area gained more soul food options. Brian Spicer, Sr. opened Soul Spice on East Hull Avenue. Greens, chicken and waffles and six kinds of build-your-own macaroni and cheese  lead the menu… Mac Shack continued the theme with a Valley West Mall opening… Sir’s Kitchen did the same on East Hubbell… John and Bene Zehr, and Brooke and Ryan McCauley, opened their second metro Main Street Café & Bakery next to Basil Prosperi in 801 Grand with 90 seats and communal tables… Five19 Restaurant and Bar opened in Johnston taking over the space formerly occupied by Legends American Grill… Fong’s Pizza announced its latest opening, in the Drake neighborhood in the space formerly occupied by Bordy’s… Mama Mia’s addressed the area’s slice shortage by opening near Principal Park on Ninth Street. They also sell whole pies, sandwiches, stuffed meatballs and stromboli… Evolve Juice and Paleo addressed our Paleo shortage with an opening at Sixth and Walnut.

The Bad News

Jeff Stanley died in Madison, Wisconsin, last month. Stanley’s secondhand store Dotty Dumpling’s Dowry was a center of coolness in Des Moines during the 1960s. He also was a partner in So’s Your Mother, Des Moines’ first bar to cater to the contemporary musical tastes of the era. He moved Dottty’s to Madison in the 1970s and transformed it into a café. It would become Madison headquarters for visiting Iowans for decades. It also became one of America’s legendary burger joints… Cowboy Chicken closed its Ankeny store. This was an all-local wood-fired chicken rotisserie with a fabulous product. It’s also a product that doesn’t seem to work in Des Moines, as two other similar joints have folded here in recent years… East Fourteenth Street was devastated with the loss of two iconic restaurants that had operated there for a total of 85 years between them. Village Inn and Scornovacca’s will be missed… Pollo Catracho (Honduran Chicken) opened on the same street with more of the eastside’s best known cuisine.


Shokai Sushi of Fairfield and Burlington merged with Fusion Bistro of West Des Moines, which is now named Shokai Fusion… Taco Hangover, formerly known as Saint’s, closed and reopened as, wait for this, Saints. ♦

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