This Thursday, somebody is going to win a restaurant startup package worth $153,000 to open their own eatery in Oskaloosa, but they’ll have to pass through plenty of challenges to get there in Iowa’s Best Bite Restaurant Challenge, a contest conducted by local marketing firm Art A La Carte.
Iowa’s Best Bite Restaurant Challenge is a national talent competition that seeks to place restaurants in rural communities, and this year’s competition in Oskaloosa has narrowed down the contestants to three semifinalists who submitted detailed plans for their vision of the city’s newest restaurant.
This diverse group will face a panel of industry leaders who will critique and question their business acumen on May 15. Included in the judging group is eastern Iowa restaurateur Jim Mondonaro, who operates Iowa City restaurants Givanni’s Mondonaros, Joseph’s, Mondo’s and Saloon. Frank Hansen of MCG, Blair Van Zetten of Oskaloosa Foods and local food celebrity Ruthi Rogers round out the judging panel. The two who satisfy the judges will face yet another challenge the next day, as they cook for a panel of community tasters and present their vision of Oskaloosa’s newest restaurant.
The semifinalists include former Oskaloosa resident Marty McPherrin-Raptis, who is bringing her homestyle concept “Grasshoppers” to the table; Niagara Falls, New York couple Christopher and Karen Ward, whose “Rainmaker” concept will feature chef Karen’s slow cooking methods; and “Eat on the Green,” a collaborative New American cuisine effort between two of last year’s contest finalists, Chef Pam Oldes and Shayna Bruce combined with Ames couple Zane and Suzanne Muntz.
Narrowing down the competition from around 20 interested restaurateurs to the three semifinalists was accomplished by holding each candidate to high standards in creating a business plan, financial projections and menu development.
The winner of last year’s competition was Newton native Carly Groben with her concept for Prairie Canary, now open in Grinnell.