- Associated Press - Sunday, December 21, 2014

CEDAR FALLS, Iowa (AP) - Penne Koeppel prefers the old-school appeal of her Maid-Rite restaurant.

Apparently, so do a lot of Koeppel’s customers, who, she says, have traveled from across the U.S. to dine in the restaurant at 116 E. Fourth St. in downtown Cedar Falls.

Somebody has been serving Maid-Rites, the iconic loose-meat sandwiches, at that location since 1947, the Waterloo-Cedar Falls Courier (https://bit.ly/1z8NrFU ) reported.

“It’s a great location,” said Koeppel, who bought the business from her mother, the late Ramona Shatzer, in 1980. “I’m kind of off on a side street, so it’s not as good as being on Main, but when they have downtown promotions, that brings in business.”

Koeppel says she appreciates the history of the business. When she was told an upgrade was needed in order to meet fire regulations, she thought about whether she should continue to keep the business open.

“When the fire department said we had to remodel and I was getting prices on how much that would cost, it was based on whether I’d stay open or not, and I think a lot of people would be disappointed if I didn’t do it,” she said.

Koeppel opted for the updates, at a cost of $55,000, including a new hood and kitchen equipment, and did more work on top of that, she said.

The cost of the renovation almost matched the price she paid for the restaurant, Koeppel said.

“While we were closed, we put in a new countertop and new flooring, a lot of painting, new refrigeration and new stools,” she said. “I did a lot of scrubbing of things to make them look nicer.”

The work was done in eight days, and Koeppel reopened in early November.

Customers came flocking back, she said.

“I think it’s the friendly atmosphere that keeps people coming back - that, and good food,” said Koeppel, who managed the restaurant on Saturdays when her mother owned it.

The menu features more than the standard Maid-Rite sandwiches, Koeppel said.

“We specialize in homemade stuff,” she said, listing soup, hot beef, fresh potato offerings and pies among menu items.

“We have people come from all over the United States who have signed our guest book,” she said. “Everybody signs the book and puts little notes in it.”

There are plenty of regulars who show up for breakfast, as well as for the traditional lunch rush, Koeppel said.

“We have a lot of retirees in here at 8 or 9 o’clock in the morning,” she said. “We have a wide range of people, young kids and old.”

The restaurant recently featured hot beef and a potato side as a special that “brings a lot of people here,” she said.

The restaurant is a familiar site to local residents, even if it has had to evolve with the times. An example: A Maid-Rite today is priced at $3.45, compared to five for $1 in a long-gone era.

“But the menu is pretty much the same,” Koeppel said. “We try to do salads and stuff for people that want to watch their weight. We have egg salads and grilled cheese for people that are vegetarians. We have some people who can’t have gluten. They can eat a Maid-Rite bowl and side salads.”

Competition from the chains isn’t a factor in the success of the business, Koeppel said.

“I don’t know if it really affects us that much,” she said. “It may have at one time. It’s really the weather that affects us more.”

There are hints of the restaurant’s local heritage on display. Perhaps the biggest is a hand-drawn picture of the restaurant that local resident Marie Cook for Koeppel and her husband, Allen, for their 25th wedding anniversary.

Allen, an inspector at Viking Pump in Cedar Falls, isn’t involved in the restaurant, but the couple’s three children worked there when they were growing up.

“My kids were raised through here,” she said.

Koeppel, who will turn 60 in February, was asked about the restaurant’s future.

“Hopefully it gets me to a good retirement,” she said. “I think it’s going to be extended with the remodeling. It’s like starting over again.”

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Information from: Waterloo-Cedar Falls Courier, https://www.wcfcourier.com

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