From Nashville-style comfort food to Japanese sushi and sashimi, Ames and Story County saw the opening of several new restaurants in 2021.
Although staffing was a challenge for almost every restaurant and bar this year, the businesses adapted by using a variety of strategies, including limiting their hours of operation, serving fewer tables and focusing on carry-out and delivery.
Supply chain issues caused delays for most of the new locations, too, but owners managed to open their new eateries amid the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic, which also created challenges around masking, social distancing and vaccination status.
The good news is, however, that whether you want a flatbread pizza while you listen to jazz at Noir bar or are hankering for a freshly made sub sandwich from Jersey Mike’s for a quick lunch, several establishments opened their doors to keep your taste buds happy.
Here are just a few of the eateries that opened in the Ames area this past year:
Where to find it: 316 Main St., Ames; online at SweetCarolinesAmes.com.
With crispy fried chicken, savory meatloaf, ice-cold sweet tea and big copper mugs of Moscow mules, Sweet Caroline's Kitchen & Cocktails opened in downtown Ames in September. Owners Nicki and Joe Romare added Sweet Caroline's to their list of businesses, which also includes Bondurant's Founders Irish Pub and the Ames, Ankeny and Des Moines Whiskey River locations.
“We wanted that Nashville kind of vibe in the whole place — that kind of feeling,” Nicki Romare said at the time.
Large, historic advertising murals on the interior brick walls add to the ambiance of the restaurant, whose name is a nod to the Neil Diamond song played after Iowa State teams' wins.
Where to find it: 117 Welch Ave., Ames; online at IchibanAmes.com.
Ichiban Japanese Restaurant opened in Campustown "by accident" one night thanks to a college student with a food blog. Ames native and owner Guan Wang went with the flow and served the customers who streamed in, quickly making Ichiban ramen a big hit, along with its sushi and sashimi.
A former professional ice hockey player and coach, Wang infused his menu with ideas he pulled from his travels abroad. One of the popular items on the menu is the appetizer Crab Rangoon Mozzarella Sticks, which were featured in a New York Times article about the elevation of the former bowling alley menu item.
Where to find it: 537 Lincoln Way, Ames; online at JerseyMikes.com.
Andrew Uher opened Ames' first Jersey Mike’s restaurant in February because he loved the sub sandwiches so much. “I always wanted to own my own business,” Uher said. “And I thought this would be a great opportunity.”
The bread is baked, the beef is roasted and the lettuce, onions and tomatoes are sliced onsite every day. Sandwiches are handmade at the time of the order. A concoction of oil, vinegar and herbs is available and adds to the franchise's claim that it's a "sub above." Dine-in and carry-out options are both available.
Time to Roll
Where to find it: 2801 North Grand Ave., Ames, inside the North Grand Mall; online at Time-to-Roll.com.
Twin brothers Payne and Payton Roberts launched a new dining experience, Time to Roll, at North Grand Mall in February. The brothers already owned Sweet Swirls Hand-Rolled Ice Cream, with a location in Ankeny and a food trailer in Ames. When a storefront became available in the Ames mall, they jumped at the chance to locate there, while adding Tex-Mex items to the menu.
Time to Roll teamed up with Inside Golf, which offers golf simulators, ax throwing and other games, so that customers can order delivery from Time to Roll to their Inside Golf table. The menu includes soft- and hard-shell tacos, burritos and a large variety of sides, salads, as well as favorites like quesadillas and loaded tater tot nachos.
Where to find it: 405 Kellogg Ave., Ames; online at NoirAmes.com.
Noir opened in downtown Ames on April 1 with a 1920s speakeasy atmosphere and a bourbon-forward drink menu. The food menu is small but elegant, with a selection of flatbread pizzas. Specialty drinks include the Charlie Chaplin's Milkshake, a delicious, creamy concoction that's so potent, customers are limited to how many they can order. The Smoking Thompson 45 is a drink and a show, as applewood chips give a smoky essence to the mixture of Bulleit bourbon, maple syrup and bitters.
Located in the historic Sheldon Munn building, Noir is owned by Bill and Jen Malone, who also own the Cafe Diem coffee shops in Ames and Ankeny. Noir features live music several times a week and tables can be reserved on Open Table or on Noir's website.
Where to find it: 24 Lincoln Way, Colo; online at Facebook.com/NilandsCafe.
Longtime Colo residents Danny and Abi Wilson reopened the historic Niland's Cafe in May and were immediately greeted by throngs of happy, hungry customers who longed to see the iconic cafe reopen for business after closing in 2020. With a menu full of made-from-scratch items like breaded tenderloin, roast beef, pulled pork, biscuits and gravy, and pie, the Wilsons said they wanted to serve food with heart.
Niland's Cafe is located at the Reed-Niland Corner beside a restored gas station and Colo Motel at the junction of the Lincoln and Jefferson highways near Colo. In 1923, Colo farmer Charlie Reed began selling gasoline, and soon after that added food and lodging to his roadside services.
Where to find it: 601 First Ave., Collins; online at Sweet-Oaks-Bakery-Bistro.square.site.
Jenny Oaks said it was a dream come true when she celebrated the grand opening of her bistro in Collins on June 11 — Sweet Oaks Bakery + Bistro is an evolution of the business Oaks started as a small bakery featuring her custom cakes and cupcakes. During the pandemic, she expanded her menu to include grab-and-go sandwiches and take-and-bake entrees.
Noted as one of the "40 Women to Watch in Hospitality" in 2020, Oaks proved that recognition was apropos as she expanded her business to include the sit-down bistro. The menu includes homemade soups and sandwiches, which are served on house-made bread. Homemade biscuits and gravy, pancakes, French toast and cinnamon rolls are among the breakfast offerings. Cakes, cupcakes and other baked goods are for sale, too.
Juniper & Olive Co.
Where to find it: 632 Main St., Jewell; online at JuniperAndOlive.co.
When Nevada native Cyndi Gryte returned to Iowa from the Big Apple, she had all the skills and the personality to make her downtown Jewell bistro, Juniper & Olive Co., an instant success. Jewell's thriving historic Main Street has several stores with vintage and handmade items, and Gryte's bistro only added to the atmosphere.
With handcrafted cocktails she perfected while working at Coyote Ugly and throwing parties in New York City, Gryte has a drink menu but can concoct anything to wet your whistle. She also offers a selection of non-alcoholic drinks, including little glass bottles of Coca-Cola. With charcuterie boards, paninis, small plates and desserts, Juniper & Olive has a small but sophisticated menu of offerings that use many local ingredients, too.
Where to find it: 660 N. Highway 69, Huxley; online at Facebook.com/ScootersCoffee1001.
Huxley's first Scooter's Coffee opened in October along Highway 69. It's the second Scooter's for owners Deb and Jim Auen of Carroll and Joseph Ferguson and Zachary Martens, both of whom live in Denison.
The chain's signature drink is the Caramelicious, which mixes espresso and caramel sauce in an ice cream base that's then topped with whipped cream and drizzled with caramel sauce. The menu features a variety of specialty espresso beverages, single-origin coffee, fruit smoothies, Red Bull infusions, cold brews, baked-from-scratch pastries and savory breakfast sandwiches. The Huxley location also offers puppuccinos for customers whose furry friends are looking for a treat.
This article originally appeared on Ames Tribune: Looking back at restaurants that opened in the Ames, Iowa area in 2021