After much hand wringing, on the part of Iowa City residents, and pleading, from Cedar Rapids residents, New Pioneer Coop decided to open a store in Cedar Rapids.
For those of you who do not live in this area there is a tension between the two communities that resembles the “town versus gown” tension in college towns. Iowa City, where the University of Iowa is located, would be the “gown” and Cedar Rapids, where more people live and work, would be the “town.” It’s an imperfect analogy, but it starts to get at how each city generally views the other.
However, not serving a community just thirty minutes up the road seems silly and the membership of New Pi finally saw the light. The new store, in the old Fin & Feather location at 3338 Center Point Road NE, opened in early December 2014. I wanted to wait and give my impressions a moment to ferment.
The location is great. It’s conveniently off of I-380 and near the north side of town where a large chunk of commercial activity, not to mention the city’s two largest employers, resides. The best part is that it’s just a few turns of the crank away from the Cedar River Trail that connects to the Cedar Valley Nature Trail and the Hoover Nature Trail. I have spoken at length about the gem that this trail system represents and the more businesses that locate near the trail system the better.
The bread is amazing. Now coming from a centralized bakehouse to meet the demand of three stores and commercial contracts, the bread has maintained its well-known quality. I highly recommend the jalapeno cheddar bread. Trust me, I stalk the 2 PM Saturday delivery like a paparazzo. It barely lasts into the next day. A dry-hopped IPA and a slice of this bread are the perfect evening snack.
The prepared foods are also great. The kitchen staff is headed up by Matt Steigerwald who was the owner/chef of the highly regarded Lincoln Cade in Mount Vernon. He is assisted by former co-worker at the Lincoln Café and former owner of Braise Company Shawn Price. It will be very interesting to see what these two cook up, literally and figuratively, as the store gets its feet underneath itself in the near term. I also tend to have an addiction to the Cashew on a Hot Tin Roof sandwich. I have a problem.
Given that it is winter in eastern Iowa I am going to wait to pass judgment on the produce section. The store seems to be laid out in such a way to add produce as seasonal items become available. The local Honeycrisp apples were delicious.
Two areas that were underwhelming to me were the beer and coffee selection. I am a beer snob, but I had hoped to see something different on the shelves. It really felt like a chopped down version of the craft beer case at any local HyVee. The bulk coffee selection underwhelmed as well. The selection was limited—no bulk decaf option—and there seemed to be a real lack of variety.
Work is not yet completed outside. This is the product of living in Iowa where the winter stalls out construction for months and the legacy of having to remove a pest control office that used to sit in what is now the parking lot. When completed the parking lot is going to feature a bioswale.
The bioswale will slow runoff and allow runoff from the parking lot to filter through vegetation and compost before hitting any streams. This is a key improvement because a critical urban waterway runs along the Cedar River Trail just to the west of the store. Given the city’s history with flooding and the importance of urban waterways, a freakin’ runs right through downtown, I hope that bioswales become more common across the area.
There is a whole lot of positive happening with New Pi’s Cedar Rapids location. I consider the initial store layout and product offerings to be a test case that will evolve over time as local tastes and preferences come into play. Evolution is good.
NOTE: I am a member of New Pi, so my opinion is not totally unbiased.