iowa falls: riverside restaurant

In its prime, Iowa Falls’ Camp David was a successful destination restaurant, featuring a smokehouse menu and wilderness lodge ambiance. The location was, and remains, a prime spot for a hospitality venue. The building has a number of unique natural and décor features that could be retooled relatively easily to fully use the spaciousness of the building and its proximity to the river as well as to better leverage the beauty of the view overlooking the Iowa River bluffs.

The current Iowa Falls property is too large to successfully house a single restaurant concept regardless of menu type or price point. However, this nearly 10,000 square foot property does have strong potential to be refurbished as an incredibly interesting multi-concept development, blending retail, restaurant, and recreational opportunities. This one-of-a-kind location could be used as a river recreation hub for Hardin County and draw people from across Central Iowa.

The former Camp David site should be transformed into a multi-use development with two distinct food and beverage concepts, linked to a retail and river recreational rental network. Research from the National Restaurant Association’s Household survey shows that 61 percent of adults would rather spend money on an experience, such as a restaurant or other activity, compared to purchasing an item from a store. This proposed multi-use riverside hospitality venue fully invests in this notion by combining a current food and beverage strategy with a unique regional recreational activity.

Finally, a third sister venue will be housed in Steamboat Rock.  Called The Outpost, this should be sited at the same location as the outdoors outfitter and offer grab-and-go packaged food and beverage items for those kayaking, biking, or hiking between venues. With its close proximity to the campground, the river, and various attractions, the cross-marketing possibilities are endless.

A more in-depth description and business plan can be found in Appendix K.

For the purpose of this multi-use proposal, the primary restaurant will be called the Iowa River Supper Club. This casual “throwback” table service restaurant and bar will pay homage to the supper clubs of days gone by but without the pretense. It will occupy a significant portion of the upper levels of the former Camp David restaurant.

The lower level of the building will house a second independent hospitality concept called The Exchange Swim Grill.  In addition to partnering with an outpost location in Steamboat Rock to provide recreational river and trail rentals, it will have healthy grab-and-go items and quick-fire foods. There also will be a small retail space offering goods needed for river fun (sunscreen, hats, shirts, packaged soda and beer to-go, Gatorade, Cliff Bars, etc.) There will be riverwalk seating for those who have taken a break from being on the river and stopped for a bite as well as locals who want to sit overlooking the water and enjoy a casual meal or a drink. This “shabby chic” bar and grill also will pay homage to nostalgia with an ambiance reminiscent of a camp canteen but with decidedly better food and adult beverage offerings.

Action Steps

recruit owner/operator with a blend of culinary expertise and strong operations experience

Iowa Restaurant Association, Iowa Falls Chamber/Main Street, Hardin County Development Alliance

Secure building. Work with city and county to secure incentives. If owner is not operator, secure a favorable lease structure to attract tenant. Look for someone with both front of house and back of house experience.

Q2 2018

develop buildout concept

Architect, owner, operator

Personalize business plan in Appendix K to create a clean and contemporary prairie style aesthetic that intertwines the natural beauty of the bluffs with the interior. Address both interior and exterior recommendations.

Q3 2018

secure capital to complete buildout


Seek local incentives and local financial institution to ensure a favorable, low-risk plan.

Q1 2019