Story by Lauren Baker
Today, popular restaurants such as Jethro’s, Drake Dinner and Zombie Burger dominate the restaurant scene in Des Moines.
However, these iconic restaurants did not exist 50 years ago. College students instead flocked to local diners, including several breakfast restaurants that suppressed the 2 a.m. munchies.
“Of course, girls were locked in their dorms due to curfew hours, but the guys would pile in a car, inhale sugar and flirt with the overnight cashier,” said Marvin Gatch, a 1964 Drake graduate.
Jerry Allen, a 1969 graduate, recalled the late nights that he and his Alpha Tau Omega fraternity brothers would go to breakfast at restaurants such as Toddle House, Why-Not Café and Good Food by Dodd’s.
“Guys being guys at 1 a.m. We stayed out late, went to restaurants and goofed around,” Allen said.
Johnny and Kay’s, located by the airport, was a date-night favorite However, it was not a place that was easily affordable on a college student’s budget.
“Johnny and Kay’s was the place our parents would take us for a special occasion,” Allen said.
Babe’s was an iconic restaurant in downtown Des Moines owned by an Italian man, Babe Bisignano.
“If we could scrape some money together we would go there (Babe’s) and get a couple beers and a pizza,” said Rich Prigge, a 1966 graduate.
A few of the iconic restaurants, like Jesse’s Embers and Noah’s Ark on Ingersoll Avenue, are still open for business. Embers is a favorite place for steak and seafood, while Noah’s Ark is the place to go if you’re craving Italian.
“There is no doubt about it, I still remember Noah’s Ark,” Allen said.
Vic’s Café was a common eatery in the Dogtown neighborhood, famous for its double burger, the “Double B.”
“It was they Drake Bulldog grill. Everyone went there,” Gatch said. “It was the Drake Diner of its time.”
Henry’s Hamburgers was another hamburger hub and one of the first fast-food restaurants in Des Moines.
“It was a big attraction to college folks that could drive there. What a concept. You didn’t have to go sit down somewhere to get a meal,” Gatch said.
Burgers and shakes were originally 15 cents while drinks and fries were just 10 cents. It lost its position as the only fast food restaurant when a McDonald’s opened at the intersection of 30th and Forest in 1964.
As alumni come back to Des Moines, they visit some of their favorite restaurants from back in the day as well as explore the new Des Moines eateries of today. Alumni also reminisce and tell stories of their college adventures in Des Moines. This leaves them wondering, how much will Des Moines change in the next 50 years?