One of Des Moines' oldest restaurants is about to be back in full service after a major overhaul.
Chuck's, an Italian-American restaurant known for its pizza and annual community Thanksgiving dinner, underwent an extensive $1.4 million renovation through a partnership with the Neighborhood Development Corp. and Invest DSM that was years in the making. The project included updates to the building's electrical and plumbing systems, opening ceilings, adding new stove-top hoods, replacing carpet and patches to a leaky roof. It's still being finished off with several murals by local artists.
The building itself, which is located at 3610 6th Ave. in the Oak Park neighborhood on the city's north side, dates back to the 19th century.
The restaurant reopened back in October, adding carryout and reservations along the way, and owner Emily Jones is ready to pull the trigger for full walk-in service. The restaurant first opened in 1956, and Jones took over for the Bisignano family about eight years ago.
"We were putting Band-Aids on Band-Aids on Band-Aids," Jones said. "It just needed an overhaul."
The restaurant's partial reopening has already drawn massive interest, with one Facebook post reaching tens of thousands of people and causing Jones' cell phone to ring nonstop. Former servers have returned, joining new kitchen staff to get the place back up and running.
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One of the restaurant's rooms that features space for live music, with its design dating back at least a few decades with its old-school wood paneling and interior roof shingles, remains largely untouched.
"When you talk to people, this is everyone's favorite room," Jones said. "It just has so much history back here. I can't even tell you how many people I've talked to and they're like, 'Oh, my wedding was there' (or) 'Oh, I had my kids' first birthday (party here).' "
The renovation unearthed historical items and old photographs, including old handwritten recipes, one of the namesake Chuck's diplomas, and an old "Tom Harkin for Senate" hat. Jones plans to create an inlay out of some of the discoveries at the bar.
The project also included renovations to apartments above the restaurant that had been vacant. Other significant changes in the Sixth Avenue business district that connects the Oak Park and Highland Park neighborhoods over the past few years include the opening of Slow Down Coffee Co., an overhaul of Highland Park Bakery and the opening of Des Moines Mercantile.
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Chuck's, a neighborhood staple, started as a bar run by Chuck and Elizabeth Bisignano and turned into an Italian restaurant. Jones purchased the restaurant in 2014 after the death of longtime owner Linda Bisignano.
The partnership with Neighborhood Development Corp. and Invest DSM came as part of an effort to improve housing and amenities while drawing new businesses to neighborhoods in Des Moines, including Highland Park and Oak Park.
Jones said it's her hope that, as development continues, Highland Park becomes Des Moines' next East Village.
Chris Higgins covers the eastern suburbs for the Register. Reach him at email@example.com or 515-423-5146 and follow him on Twitter @chris_higgins_.
This article originally appeared on Des Moines Register: Chuck's restaurant in Des Moines set to fully reopen after renovation