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The Scarlet & Black

Competition invites ideas for restaurant start-up ideas

When Bourbon Street closed a few months ago, the Grinnell community was left wondering how this void in Grinnell’s historic downtown and restaurant scene would be filled. After some discussion, the idea of holding a contest to fill the empty storefront with a new, unique restaurant emerged. A panel that consists of the location’s building owner, the Grinnell Chamber of Commerce, chefs, restaurant management gurus, marketers and restaurateurs will judge the contest.

Bourbon Street stands empty, awaiting the arrival of the Iowa’s Best Bite Restaurant Challenge winner. Photograph by Devon Gamble

The primary goal of the contest, aptly named Iowa’s  Best Bite Restaurant Challenge, is to attract a creative, ambitious chef or restaurateur.

“Even if everyone can’t agree on a type of food we want, we can agree on one thing: we want good food. And the best way to do that is get a really good chef,” said Casey Strickler ’12, Grinnell Area Chamber of Commerce Apprentice.

The contest, and its vast array of prizes, should attract a variety of applicants. In addition to the privilege of renting the prime downtown real estate at a reduced price (after three months rent-free), the winner will also receive $10,000 startup cash, $25,000 in inventory items, a fully outfitted kitchen, a professional branding package by Art a la Carte, and a year of mentorship by some of Iowa’s top restaurateurs. The prize package could be a dream come true for an aspiring entrepreneur.

The contest owners are not looking for someone with a particular age or level of experience, but someone who will utilize the space effectively.

“We’re especially looking for someone who can run their own restaurant with a creative and unique idea. We’re looking for a type of food we don’t already have in Grinnell, like somewhere with a good vegetarian option, for example,” Strickler said.

According to, the contest will feature web videos submitted by the competitors. There is also some discussion about getting the contest nationally televised. The contest and surrounding media discussion should hopefully bring attention to Grinnell and raise its status as a destination.

The organizers of the contest are excited to see what its outcome will be and are confident that the unique nature of the contest should attract some great competitors. “I’m really impressed by the vibrancy of the downtown district, of Grinnell, of the work Dick Knapp [the building owner] had done to revitalize it,” said Paul Rottenberg of Orchestrate Management, one of the judges for the contest. “I think for the right operator, this could be an incredible opportunity.”

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