Orlondo's closing leaves void in Des Moines cycling community
All three called their staffs family and Wade Thompson explained it this way, "It was my dream to begin with and your asking people for it to be their dream too." Brian Powers, firstname.lastname@example.org
Jethro's owner plans new restaurant to draw cyclists from Great Western Trail.
Patrick Renda recalls the first group of cyclists that walked into his Des Moines restaurant.
"They were the wildest," the recently retired owner of Orlondo's said last month. "I mean, they were unbelievable."
The colorful, Spandex-clad crew was looking for a good time — and for 17 years, Renda's restaurant gave them a home.
"I welcomed them with open arms," he said. "A lot of people were afraid of them because they like to party and have a good time. And I wasn't against that."
Orlondo's On Park, which closed in July, was a pioneer. Long before the Night Hawk in Slater and Flat Tire in Madrid, it was a mecca for Iowa's cycling community.
"We are going to miss the place," cyclist Brian Watson said.
His cyclist group, Team Wrong, made weekly stops at Orlondo's for 12 years.
"We do a lot of 'Taco Tuesday' rides, from Orlondo's to Cumming and back," Watson said.
The ride draws anywhere from 50 to 100 cyclists who stop at restaurants and bars along the Great Western Trail. For many, Orlondo's was a midway stop between Mullets in Des Moines and the Cumming Tap. For others, it was a starting point.
"It is a landmark, especially for the biking community. It's been there for so long, we took it for granted," Watson said.
"It will be missed."
The end of an era
Renda, a five-decade veteran of the restaurant business, was the brains and heart behind everything that made Orlondo's tick.
During a stop there late last month, Renda hurried around the restaurant with the energy of a much younger man.
He greeted customers, delivered pizzas and even climbed onto the roof to check the air conditioner.
"He does this all the time when he's here," said Jody Lamb, Renda's girlfriend of 17 years. "He just can't sit still. When he's cooking in the kitchen, he usually brings out samples for the people that are there at the time."
But the years in the restaurant had taken their toll.
"I hate getting old, but that's what's happened," Renda said. "I've gotten old. I can't do it all like I want to."
Renda, a second-generation Italian-American, was raised in Des Moines. His father immigrated from Calabria, Italy. His mother was from Minnesota.
After a stint as a bartender and cook at a Chicago country club, he moved back to Iowa in 1978, and with a $1,500 investment, opened the first Orlondo's at the corner of Forest Avenue and 21st Street.
The restaurant, known for its thin-crust pizzas, pasta dishes and creamy salad dressing, had several incarnations over the years. It relocated several times, including spots on University Avenue in Des Moines, Ashworth Road in West Des Moines and in front of the Bluebird Hotel in Windsor Heights.
Finally, in 2002, Orlondo's came to its final location on Park Avenue, where Renda planted a garden on the property, growing sweet basil, tomatoes, zucchini, peppers used in the restaurant's kitchen.
The location seemed a natural fit for the restaurant.
"What we've always loved about the south side is that is always was more of a small community," Lamb said.
Lamb likened Orlondo's to the bar in the TV show "Cheers" — a place where everybody knows your name.
"It's sad because he put his heart and soul into that place and we did too," bartender Wendy Wood said. "We're just a very small crew, like family, and it's hit everybody pretty hard."
Orlondo's had a steady stream of regulars from the neighborhood and longtime customers who followed the business from location to location over the years, but it wasn't until it moved in next to the bike path that things really took off.
"The bike path has become a huge thing for everybody," Renda said.
New restaurant will cater to cyclists
The Orlondo's closure has left many in the cycling community wondering what might happen next.
They got their answer last week when Bruce Gerleman, owner of Splash Seafood Bar & Grill and Jethro's restaurants, announced plans to open Jethro's BBQ n' Bigfoot in its place.
Gerleman plans to double the size by building a new kitchen, rooftop bar and a ride-up outdoor bar to cater to cyclists coming from the Great Western Trail.
"It will be really fun for all the bikers," he said. "They’re the one crowd that’s going to get this."
Gerleman said he expects to invest upwards of $1 million into the facility, including adding a trail extension to get riders from the Great Western to the restaurant.
"A lot of the reactions from the bicycling community is excitement to have Jethro's on that trail," Gerleman said. "We’re not going to disappoint them."
He plans to open by March 1 in time for St. Patrick's Day.
Orlondo's name lives on
As for Orlondo's, the restaurant may be gone, but the name lives on in a line of salad dressings and seasonings.
The restaurant's creamy Italian dressing has been available in the grocery stores for several years, but the oil dressing and marinade is new to the market.
The Orlondo's line of seasonings includes jerk chicken spice, Jamaican all-purpose and Jamaican meats — all dry rubs — and a pizza spice blend.
The dressing and seasoning line is mixed and package in Indianola. It's available in 160 Hy-Vee and Fareway supermarkets in Iowa, Omaha, Minneapolis and Kansas City, and is expanding to Nebraska, Wisconsin, Illinois and Missouri.
"We'll be doing demos so people can taste my product outside of Des Moines," Renda said.
And he's keeping the Orlondo's name with him.
"Orlondo's is me," Renda said. "I really don't want to give the recipes up because I'll always want to do it. You never know. Something could pop up and I could be right back again."
Brian Taylor Carlson is the food and dining reporter at the Des Moines Register. Reach him at email@example.com or 515-284-8552 and follow @briantaylorcarlson on Facebook, @BriinDSM on Twitter and @briindsm on Instagram.