ELY– For Gary Scott, operating a bistro of his own has been one small step after another. From helping customers behind the counter to running the kitchen, creating his restaurant’s menu and building a following, he has the years of experience and kitchen hands of a professional.
Scott worked in pizza restaurants for years, managing, delivering, baking pies and cleaning up, but always for somebody else.
So after getting out of food service for a brief period when he worked in a Cedar Rapids foundry, he went back to school to learn the hospitality business at Kirkwood Community College.
Then a turnkey restaurant opportunity opened up in Westdale Mall.
Scott, with blessings from his wife Caron, bought it and set up his first restaurant, Scott’s Sandwich Café.
After making it work in the mall, he left for greener pastures.
On May 16, he opened a new eatery in downtown Ely. Same name, same great food, even the same employees; but now, parking is a little easier in the mornings and patrons can eat outside at a sidewalk table, weather-permitting. There’s a lunchtime rush for sandwiches, salads, wraps and quesadillas.
He brought along most of his staff from the mall location and said that bicycle traffic is picking up. Downtown Ely is becoming a destination spot because of the Cedar Valley Nature Trail extension.
For Gary, it’s a way to breathe easier after two years in the daily grind of hungry shoppers in a Muzak-echoing mall scene.
And it’s working. Customers in Ely are spreading the word about his place and he said they welcomed him to town.
He also has a catering grill that serves food in Marion in the summers. He met his wife, Caron, at Paul Revere Pizza. After getting a business degree, she’s now at Aegon.
Caron said Gary has wanted to run his own place since before she met him.
She knows that Gary is at his best when he’s cooking up something special.
“He’s happy using his experience managing and working in the kitchen to do his own thing,” she said.
Gary said he likes to offer local favorites and seasonal dishes. He’s always working to create healthier salad and sandwich options too.
He said he’ll tinker with the menu, but he probably doesn’t have to because fresh ingredients, like Scott’s salad greens and fresh-sliced deli meat, speak for themselves, especially when he and fellow chef Zach Neuman put them together.
The Panini club sandwich with garlic aioli is a big favorite in Ely. Other sandwiches are served on ciabatta bread and there are creative touches throughout the menu, like the classic Reuben he’s given a “turkey twist” and called a “Rachel.”
The Cuban wrap has roasted pork and smoked ham with honey mustard and the Chef wrap has egg, turkey, cheddar and greens. The most expensive item is a Brunch burger served with American cheese, egg and bacon for $6.99.
A kids menu, ice cream and eatery real fruit smoothies round out the fare at Scott’s Sandwich Café.
What’s been the best part about opening a restaurant in a small town?
“I really enjoy the people and their warmth,” he said, “They are so friendly here.”
The move has been easy he said because the people in Ely “openly welcomed us.”
Scott’s Sandwich Café is planning to add a delivery service by the end of the year. The restaurant employs six people. Jeni Urban has worked with Gary since he opened at Westdale Mall.
The shop is open Monday through Saturday from 11 a.m. until 9 p.m. at 1665 Dows St. in Ely. The number for the eatery is 319-841-2244.
Gary and Caron Scott live in Cedar Rapids with their two children.