Brother and sister are happy to be back home and cooking in Strawberry Point
By Jean Caspers-Simmet
Date Modified: 07/09/2012 8:36 AM
STRAWBERRY POINT, Iowa — Brenda and Rick Landis grew up in Strawberry Point, and after living in Florida for many years, the brother and sister are happy to be back home.
Hence the name for the cafe they opened when they moved back to northeast Iowa in 2008.
"That and the fact that the food we serve here is what I call back home country cooking," said Brenda with a smile.
Rick and Brenda co-own Back Home Country Cookin', located next to the giant Strawberry on Highway 3/13 in Strawberry Point.
Brenda worked in the restaurant business for 30 years before the siblings opened their own establishment. Rick and his parents were in the upholstery business.
Brenda managed restaurants ranging from Wendy's to Omaha Steakhouse to Village Inn before going to work at Cracker Barrel where she trained more than 300 managers over the years.
"I've seen just about everything in the restaurant business," Brenda said. "This is the first time I owned my own place. It's been a challenge. We're in a rural area, and summers are very good, but winters are tough because people don't go out as much. We're fortunate that we have people stopping from all over including quite a few from out of state."
Back Home Country Cookin' is decorated with a rooster theme.
"Most of the roosters came from my house in Florida," Brenda said. "When we moved here, we were trying to cut corners and I lived in a small single trailer and all the roosters came up here. Now probably a third of the roosters have come from our customers. It might be something that their mother had or they find something at a yard sale."
Rick built a large stone fireplace and has a fire going whenever the temperature is below 50 degrees. He constructed the tables and booths in a country theme.
"Rick does all the handy work, and he fills in wherever we need someone," Brenda said.
A comfortable wood rocking chair sits next to the hearth, a gift Brenda got from Cracker Barrel when she left to move back to Strawberry Point.
Brenda does much of the cooking, but she's trained five to six employees to cook and dish when she's not there. The cafe employs 10 full- and part-time employees.
"They know how I like things," she said.
The restaurant serves a special every day. Nearly everything is made from scratch.
"We have real mashed potatoes, not instant, and we make fresh cut French fries," Brenda said. "We make our own tenderloins, cheese sticks and onion rings."
On a recent Tuesday, the special consisted of scalloped potatoes and ham. The soup was white chicken chili. The Friday special is always a 16-ounce T-bone steak for $11.99. Ham steak is featured every Sunday.
Customers can order breakfast any time. If it's busy, Brenda quits making omelets at 11 a.m. If it's not busy, she'll make an omelet any time.
Brenda tries to have apple, raspberry, rhubarb, peach and peanut butter pie available every day. From there she gets creative and even bakes gooseberry and mulberry pies when she can get the fruit.
She tries to use as much local produce as possible, and barters with customers for rhubarb, apples, tomatoes, lettuce, squash, asparagus and gooseberries.
Most soups are made from scratch. If Brenda starts a soup with a pre-made base she generally adds some fresh ingredients.
Among the other menu items are appetizers, salads, burgers, sandwiches, and ham steak, turkey, chicken, fish, steak, and rib dinners.
"We get a lot of compliments for what we do," Brenda said. "I think people enjoy that we're back home. I know that I am. I love the pace of life here and the beauty of northeast Iowa. I enjoy being close to family, and I love the change of seasons. In Florida it was hot and hotter."