8737 University Avenue
Currently: Caffrey's Steakhouse
Past occupants: P'Zazz (2003), Zachary's Sports Bar and Grill (1999-2002), Red, Hot & Blue (1998), Garfield's (1990-1996), Mackey's Family Restaurant (1987-1989)
Like a blighted soul warding off vampires, Des Moines restaurateur Annie Baldwin is using garlic to repel the hex of 8737 University Avenue, where she recently opened a steakhouse. But instead of a bulbous necklace, Baldwin's weapon comes in the form of a Montreal-like steak rub, which customers use to help sear their chops and sirloin at the grill-your-own concept restaurant.
"In order to make it here, we had to establish a niche," says Baldwin, 36. "We're going to make this work."
Baldwin, who owns seven other Des Moines-area establishments and three in Minneapolis, is the latest in a long line of bar and nightclub owners who have opened a business at the address, which has always been challenged by unfortunate traffic patterns. Located just off a main drag in an affluent neighborhood, the building's kitty-corner location makes it impossible for cars to turn off 86th street into the lot.
Luckily for Baldwin, the city has initiated a major rezoning of the area, which sometime next year will result in better traffic flow and a walking-friendly district with parks and public art. Until then, Baldwin and her business partner -- armed with two indoor grills the size of pickup truck beds -- will make a go with Caffrey's, which features 100-year old family recipes and corn-fed Iowa beef that Baldwin cuts herself.
"We decided that the only thing that could work was to open a destination spot -- it couldn't be someplace that just served up a good burger," Baldwin says. "But the truth is, no matter where a restaurant is located, you have to work hard at it, every single day." -Maggie Overfelt
NEXT: Charlotte, N.C.