‘An overdue award’: Breitbach’s owners garner Iowa Restaurant Association’s top honor

Another local award winner

Two owners of a pair of other local eateries also garnered an honor from the Iowa Restaurant Association announced Thursday. 

Kathy Conway and Teri Link, owners of Knockout Melts and of Rock Salad in Dubuque, were selected for the Faces of Diversity Award, according to a press release.

Conway and Link opened what was American Bombshell in the summer of 2016 and changed its name to Knockout Melts in November 2018. They launched Rock Salad in August 2021.

They also will be honored during the Iowa Restaurant Association’s 27th annual Celebrating Excellence ceremony in November in Des Moines.

The owners of a Dubuque County restaurant will receive the Iowa Restaurant Association’s top honor this fall.

Mike and Cindy Breitbach, of Breitbach’s Country Dining in Balltown, have been selected by the association as the restaurateurs of the year. They will be honored during the Iowa Restaurant Association’s 27th annual Celebrating Excellence ceremony in November in Des Moines.

“Honestly, this is an overdue award for the Breitbachs,” said Jessica Dunker, president and CEO of the state association. “They have obviously been setting a high standard for what hospitality in the state of Iowa looks like for decades, and we’re so excited to be able to honor them this year.”

Breitbach’s celebrates its title as the state’s oldest food and drinking establishment, having opened in 1852. The Breitbach family has owned the business since 1862, and Mike and Cindy assumed ownership of the restaurant in 1986, after working with Mike’s parents and brother.

“There’s nothing better than to be well thought of, and this award just shows appreciation from our customers and community and everything that takes us to this level,” said Cindy Breitbach. “This is a compliment to the people who choose to work with us and for us and have for so long because without them, it’d be impossible.”

The restaurant offers a variety of diner-style favorites, including burgers, fish fillets, sandwiches, pork chops and homemade pies.

Dunker said the Iowa Restaurant Association selects restaurateurs of the year who are “pillars of the community” and exhibit originality, quality and hospitality for their patrons. Award recipients can be nominated by the public or other members of the restaurant industry.

She said the Breitbachs were nominated for this year’s award by a member of the association’s board of directors, which includes restaurant and bar owners, food purveyors and other industry members across the state. The board’s decision to name them restaurateurs of the year was unanimous.

“Over the last 150 years, (Breitbach’s) has always been one of the most consistent things in our state,” Dunker said. “You can count on that restaurant being there. It’s the same restaurant that I’ve been to, my parents have been to (and) my grandparents went to, and if that is not emblematic of what would make a restaurateur of the year, I can’t think what would.”

The establishment’s consistency was never displayed more clearly than in 2007, when the building burned to the ground in a fire on Christmas Eve. With help from the community, a new building was constructed and the restaurant reopened in June 2008, only to be destroyed by a second fire that October, on the 10-month anniversary of the first fire. Once again, the family and community rebuilt the restaurant, which reopened in August 2009.

“It’s hard to realize that it’s been 13 years since then,” Cindy said. “Day-to-day operations kind of push that out of sight, in the rear-view mirror. It’s not a choice for the faint of heart, to be in this business, but our choices of the people who work with us and for us are the only reason that makes it work.”

Over the years, Breitbach’s Country Dining has garnered a variety of awards. In 2009, the restaurant earned an America’s Classics Award from the James Beard Foundation, and in 2012, the Iowa Pork Producers Association named its pork tenderloin the best in the state. The following year, Breitbach’s was featured in an award-winning documentary, “Spinning Plates.”

“They’ve been racking up the honors and the awards and the recognition throughout their very long history here in Iowa,” said Molly Grover, president and CEO of Dubuque Area Chamber of Commerce. “For six generations, Breitbach’s has been making Iowa’s favorite meals from scratch and with lots of love, and this is just another award to add to their recognitions.”

She described the restaurant as an “iconic, legendary” establishment that is on many people’s bucket list when they visit Dubuque County.

“This is obviously a great recognition for them, and it also says a lot about the culinary scene and the restaurants and the offerings we have in the Dubuque area,” she said. “(Breitbach’s) has a hometown community feel, it has excellent customer service and their food is second to none.”