Famed Dubuque pizza restaurant temporarily closing physical location

Irene Nelson PHOTO CREDIT: JESSICA REILLY

Owners of a staple pizza place in downtown Dubuque will temporarily close the restaurant’s physical location for the next several weeks while seeking out a new space.

The Town Clock Inn, which has served the Dubuque community for more than 50 years at its Main Street location, made the announcement on Thursday in a Facebook post.

Restaurant co-owner Irene Nelson said the current physical space is “simply too big” for she and Scott, her husband and co-owner, to manage by themselves. While business has been picking up again after the COVID-19 pandemic, the lack of staffing through the pandemic has been a struggle.

“We lost some employees,” she said. “One retired and one is going back to college, so we can’t find help. We’re down to one part-time server and that’s it, actually.”

Now, the Nelsons will either look for a smaller physical location for the eatery or try to reconfigure their current space into a more manageable size.

The Town Clock Inn has been in the Nelson family for three generations, and Irene Nelson noted the space used to be the sporting goods department of the original Roshek Brothers department store.

Scott Nelson’s grandparents first bought the space in 1970, and his mother then took over the restaurant in 1985. Scott and Irene Nelson have been the owners since 2009.

“We’ve often talked about changing locations,” Scott Nelson said. “But it’s a hard thing to do when you’ve been in the same place for so long.”

Town Clock Inn pizza will continue to be served out of the restaurant’s food truck, which the Nelsons debuted last fall. The couple bought the truck because of the impact of the COVID-19 pandemic on business, and they’ve also pivoted to selling frozen pizzas.

Future food truck locations can be found on the Town Clock Pizza Facebook page, and Irene Nelson said those wanting to pick up a specific kind of pizza should call a couple days in advance. A solid food truck menu is still in the works.

The physical restaurant also will be open the first three Fridays in May, as well as May 15 and 22.

The Nelsons said they have the food truck booked for the next several weeks to keep them afloat, but they hope to find a new location soon.

In looking for a new space, she noted that she would love to find a space with outdoor dining. Outdoor seating options aren’t possible at their current downstairs location, she said, and the space also lacks parking.

But even if Town Clock Inn moves away from Main Street’s clock tower, Irene Nelson said they still will keep at least part of their name.

“It’s been amazing how people have just rallied around us, and I know other small businesses feel the same way,” she said. “It’s been a long haul. We’ve been doing this for over a year, but we want to keep going.”

Dubuque Chamber of Commerce President and CEO Molly Grover noted that challenges like Town Clock Inn’s staffing shortages have hit the restaurant industry hard this past year, but she’s looking forward to the iconic restaurant’s future.

“The Town Clock (Inn) is traditional with Dubuque, so we look forward to it reopening in its new location in the near future,” she said.