Zombie Burger creeps into Iowa City


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By Carter Howe


Zombie Burger, a popular fast, casual burger restaurant based in Des Moines, is expanding to Iowa City and the Coral Ridge Mall. These will be the first locations in eastern Iowa for the restaurant, which boasts of “inventive flavor combos in a ‘post-apocalyptic chic’ setting,” according to their website. The Iowa City location will open on Dec. 8 and the Coral Ridge Mall restaurant will open on Nov. 25. Zombie Burger currently operates three other Iowa stores in Ankeny, downtown Des Moines and Jordan Creek.

Marketing director of Zombie Burger’s parent company Orchestrate Hospitality, Adam Bartelt, said he thinks they will be successful in their new locations.

“There’s two good opportunities, both in a downtown location as well as in Coral Ridge Mall,” Bartelt said. “Being familiar with both downtown and suburban locations with Zombie Burgers here in Des Moines we thought it was a nice fit.”

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Bartelt also said that the significant downtown population and pedestrians in downtown Iowa City, as well as the presence of the University of Iowa, were the main reasons they chose the location in Iowa City.

“More than anything, it’s just a great downtown location with a lot of foot traffic. … There’s density there that you don’t always get with cities in the state, and the college community certainly contributes to that”

The Iowa City restaurant will be located at 180 East Burlington St., close to Iowa City’s famous Pedestrian Mall. As opposed to the flagship Des Moines “Drink Lab” location, the new eastern Iowa locations will be “Shake Labs,” like the other Des Moines area locations. Zombie Burger Shake Labs do not serve alcohol like the Drink Lab and have a slightly smaller menu. 

“The building we’re located in, we’re on the first floor … and all the stories above us [are] housing, and it’s all been leased by the University as student housing,” Bartelt said.

As well as opening the new restaurants, Zombie Burger will also be launching a new burger of the month promotion that will debut at the new Eastern Iowa locations.

“We recently launched … burger of the month. It’s sort of a play off what we do in the East Village here in Des Moines, which is a burger of the week. With the Shake Labs, we want to give people a consistent experience at all of them, so we’re starting a burger of the month that will be carried at all of the locations, but we’re really launching it here as we open our eastern Iowa locations,” Bartelt said.

Bartelt said that Zombie Burger has had to change their marketing approach as they have expanded to suburban locations like the Coral Ridge Mall.

“For a long time we were focused on downtown locations, which had the benefit of density, a lot of organic traffic and one of the things we’ve noticed with a lot of our suburban locations it’s more of a message driven marketing approach.”

When asked if Zombie Burger was thinking about expanding to Grinnell, Bartelt said the restaurant is focused right now on opening the new restaurants and does not currently have any other expansion plans, though a Grinnell Zombie Burger is not impossible.

“We don’t have anything in the books right now but we never say never,” Bartelt said.

Ultimately, Bartelt thinks that Zombie Burger will be able to draw people from all throughout the region.

“One of the things we noticed with Zombie Burger is that there’s definitely a draw from outside the metro area. We see that in Des Moines, we get visitors from all over the state and the region.”