The red-lighted Jethro’s sign still turns on at night.
That’s about as much life as is left to the barbeque restaurant that brought good food and life to Forest Avenue when it opened in 2008, something the road that runs on the Drake University campus’ north side desperately needed.
Jethro’s was such as success it spawned scores of sequels with different themes all over the metro.
But the original closed in December, and it will never reopen, at least not as Jethro’s.
The news came this week that Jethro’s owner Bruce Gerleman plans a downtown version of the franchise in downtown Des Moines near Wells Fargo Arena.
I’d known this for a couple months when I ran into Bruce at the Jethro’s on 22nd Street in West Des Moines.
He told me of his plans. He said he couldn’t have two Jethro’s within two miles of one another.
I nodded and ate my meal.
Bruce is the restauranter, not me.
Heaven knows nothing was happening on that corner before he made it a restaurant.
The place was originally a sit-down Pizza Hut. Such places are practically extinct. Pizza is almost all delivered these days.
Up the street was a faltering KFC-Taco Bell combo.
I’ll never know if people came to the Drake neighborhood for Jethro’s or if they went to Jethro’s because they were in the Drake neighborhood.
The place was busy on basketball nights. They did the traditional beer tent for the Drake Relays.
I avoided all that.
I became a Jethro’s devotee after the hype; I visited at odd hours.
I liked to slip in at about 3:30 in the afternoon and chat with my favorite bartenders and servers for a few hours.
I popped by on weekends about an hour before close and got a good meal.
The staff became friends. I stayed after hours sipping my pop and laughing about silly things.
Bruce often dropped by. We became friends. He poked fun at me. I poked fun at him.
We didn’t agree on a lot, but that’s what makes for interesting conversations.
I’m sad Jethro’s won’t be returning to the Drake neighborhood.
I understand why.
Downtown is where the swells dwell.
They have a lot of money to spend on food and drink while attending concerts, minor league pro basketball and pro hockey games, and monster truck events at the Well.
I used to see some Drake students at Jethro’s, but not too many.
I think the backbone of Drake was some dedicated neighborhood folks and people who came to Drake’s campus for sports, fine arts, political shindigs, and other things a university hosts.
I fell into that loyal neighborhood category.
Jethro’s was a place where I met an eclectic group of house painters. One was a retired professor.
I ate many a lunch there with my old friend Randy Evans, the best Iowa journalist who ever lived.
I think it’s probably for the best that the original Jethro’s doesn’t reopen.
The staff members were all offered jobs at other restaurants.
It’s been almost a year. Some have moved on. Others have been promoted.
Maybe I would get used to the new faces.
But it’s the old ones I miss.
When I see one of the staff from the original Jethro’s at another restaurant, there’s always a big hug and a quick catch-up.
I’m sad I don’t get to see them more often. Bruce talked about maybe trying a different format there.
That would be nice. The truth is the old Pizza Hut is a rotten building. Somebody should tear it down and make something useful there.
What that is, I don’t know. I just stack paragraphs.
Forest Avenue is doing well, though.
Casey’s opened its first convenience store without a gas station a while back.
I would have preferred a gas station so I could use my fuel-saver discounts, but at least there’s a decent pizza place in the neighborhood.
Habanero’s, a Mexican restaurant, remade the wreckage of the old KFC-Taco Bell into a tasty joint.
The parking lot always seems to be full.
The original Jethro’s seems to be the blot on the block now.
Daniel P. Finney wrote for newspapers for 27 years before being laid off in 2020. He teaches middle school English now. He writes columns and podcasts for ParagraphStacker.com, a free, reader-supported website. Please consider donating $10 a month to help him cover the expenses of this site.
Post: 1217 24th St., Apt. 36, Des Moines, 50311.
Hi guys! I had forgotten about Your favorite restaurant closing! It’s good to know what is happening (or not happening) with it. You must be too busy now with your new job so I hope that helps. I also wanted to thank you for your last podcast (with the monkey talk 😂) because it took me out of my head when I was having a panic attack! I am struggling a bit with work and your podcast saves me from my head! So Thank you 🙏 ❤️ Nancy GILCHRIST
With Buzzard Billy’s around the corner I have my doubts on how well the new location will do. One thing I do know that it leaves a hole in the campus community. The Casey’s is already dirty and the parking lot is a bit of a scary place after dark. (As is the “new” Kum N Go” on the corner.)
Miss your articles that was the only jethros we would go to