WL to host major restaurant competition

Jacob Lane · Wednesday, February 12, 2014
We Lead is spearheading "Iowa's Best Bite Restaurant Challenge" in West Liberty, a competition that's gained national attention over the years.

The competition pits restaurant hopefuls against each other in a head-to-head cook-off, where a winner will be chosen by a partnership between the community, Iowa Best Bite and We Lead.

The prize; over $100,000 worth of help with start-up and sustainability costs, including rental assistance, marketing and food costs. The winners move to town and open a high quality restaurant in a chosen location.

For West Liberty, that location is the 'Century Grille' building on Third Street.

"When I first came to town, before we ever knew that we were going to move here, I was really excited when I saw that building…that kind of put the seed in my head that it could be a cornerstone downtown," said We Lead Executive Director Shannon McNaul. "As fortune would have it I ended up in a position where one of my jobs is to help put things into the community."

Jerry Melick, owner of Liberty Communications, owns the building. He's always wanted it to be used for a restaurant that promotes West Liberty.

"I've largely invested in it to have a restaurant, one that brings people into West Liberty," he said. "I happened to have the building and Shannon had the vision, I think it's a great idea."

The competition is not only meant to promote West Liberty, but increase the number of businesses coming into the town. By bringing in one restaurant, McNaul expects more retail and commerce to follow.

"If you have one pie you can ask eight people to dinner, if you have two pies you can ask 16 people to dinner, and we want to bring a lot of people to dinner," she said.

Right now We Lead is hoping to host the finals for Iowa's Best Bite in July, in conjunction with the Muscatine County Fair. This will be the third time the Iowa Best Bite Restaurant Challenge has occurred, a competition run by Opposable Thumbs and its owners Brian and Angie Schultz.

The first competition occurred three years ago in Grinnell, won by restaurant 'Prairie Canary.'

The competition moved to Oskaloosa in 2013 where restaurant 'On the Green' won over the community. The entire Oskaloosa process was filmed for television, and will show as a two-part series on IPTV.

Following in its footsteps, Iowa Best Bite will be filmed in West Liberty as well. Ultimately the competition is about finding the best restaurant for West Liberty. From food to services, everything will be tailored toward the community.

The process kicked off Feb. 12. The early stages of the competition involves applicants submitting business plans and videos to We Lead.

Three finalists will be chosen and asked to prepare meals for a panel of judges. They'll stand before the community, offering the best they can give.

"We're going to look at their food, their cost, their service plan; were going to dissect absolutely every piece of their business in order to pick the winner, because we don't want to bring something here that's not sustainable," said McNaul.

The idea for hosting Iowa Best Bite began to formulate when McNaul first saw the 'Century Grille' building, which at the time was operating as a temporary location for the public library.

She contacted Opposable Thumbs, which at the time was beginning to choose towns for its third competition.

Nine communities applied to be the next location for the Best Bite Competition. McNaul hosted the Schultzes in West Liberty on Dec. 28 to show off the building and town in hopes of having West Liberty be the chosen community.

"They spent eight hours with us, and they let us a know a week later we would be the chosen community for a couple reasons…they loved the building, they loved the community and they liked the opportunities that are here, because it is a nice opportunity to put West Liberty on the map."

This is the beginning of We Lead's attempt to grow West Liberty. They'll also host a wine tasting event, the yearly Leadercast, and more this year, while continuing to improve the town's online presence and its overall appearance. Iowa Best Bite is a large step toward putting West Liberty on the map.

"The goal is to entice people to come and create a business in West Liberty, with the hopes of it being there for a long time," said McNaul.

To get involved, contact We Lead at 319-627-4045. To learn more about Iowa Best Bite's last competition visit www.iowasbestbite.com. It's also present on Facebook and Twitter.

As Iowa Best Bite plays out in West Liberty, the Index will be there.
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