Fifty years ago this week, Jesse`s Embers really started to sizzle…
“They not only came from Des Moines, they came from a lot of surrounding areas,” says founder Jesse Roush.
That summer Iowa legalized ‘liquor-by-the-drink’, and Roush could turn his key club into a full-service restaurant.
“It was kind of a cook-your-own steak thing at that time,’ he says, “and the south of Grand people didn`t like that idea.”
So Roush got a chef to work the grill, and the place was cookin`. The steaks were a hit, but it was the libations–the “Silver Bullet” in particular–which continued to draw crowds.
“Double shot of vodka, on the rocks, with a lemon twist,” Roush says, “And I got seven bar stools and fifteen tables in this restaurant and I had to have two bartenders at noon to keep up.”
Lunches are less liquored these days, but little else has changed under the new owners,
“You get to watch you salads being made,” says co-owner, Deena Edelstein, “your steaks being cooked.”
Chef Ed Perryman remains on the Embers` center stage, “The bad part about that is the food`s up, the waitress better get their food out because they`re looking at their food!” laughs co-owner, Marty Scarpino.
It`s fitting that Scarpino bought the place, he`d worked there for years.
“When I started here in `81,” he says, “the kids used to come in with their parents. Now the parents are bringing their kids and their kids are bringing their kids.”
Marty co-owns the place with longtime girlfriend, Edelstein. She updated the décor but says the place gained even more fresh appeal with the smoking ban.
“That made a big difference,” she says. “Everybody said they were glad because this was a big smoking place.”
The small room was bad for smoking but it`s always been great for socializing, “You feel that you know everybody!” says longtime customer, Lloyd Cleven.
The old timers remember when the Embers chain restaurant from Minnesota opened their place on Merle Hay Road.
“They gave me $10,000 but I had to change the name,” says Roush. “So I just made it ‘Jesse`s Embers.'”
That place closed while this place didn`t miss a beat.
“I made out pretty good on that deal!” Roush laughs.
The name, the food, the drinks, decorations… subtle changes here and there… and generations of loyal customers and staff… that`s how you last 50 years in one small place.