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Community helps Breitbachs survive two fires; neighbors say when people need help you help them

By Jean Caspers-Simmet

Date Modified: 11/28/2012 8:24 AM

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BALLTOWN, Iowa — Being honored by the Iowa Pork Producers Association for having Iowa's best breaded pork tenderloin means a lot to Mike and Cindy Breitbach, owners of Breitbach's Country Dining in Balltown.

"But after what we've been through the last five years, it means a lot to our whole community," said Mike Breitbach.

The Balltown restaurant, which features some of the best views of the Mississippi River Valley anywhere just down the street, burned to the ground two times. The first fire was Dec. 24, 2007.

Before the fire was even out, employees and people were offering the Breitbachs their support and assistance. Some even wrote checks.

"They helped us rebuild," Mike said. "They brought in food, cooked for the carpenters and volunteers, cleaned up fire debris, did cement and electrical work and assisted carpenters.

The new restaurant opened six months later, but misfortune struck again when the building burned to the ground four months and seven days after it opened on Oct. 24, 2008.

"The same people who came the first time and even more helped us rebuild a second time," Mike said. "Some were here every day. It's Midwest hospitality at its finest, people helping each other. We still have that in the heartland."

The new restaurant, which opened Aug. 1, 2009, resembles the original building, part of which dated back over a century, only it's larger. Much of the expanded area is in the kitchen. Cindy does all the decorating, changing with the seasons. She incorporates antiques, handmade quilts and country crafts throughout.

Mike gives credit to customers and neighbors for their help.

He said that dairy farmer Dan Brimeyer, whose wife, Deb, works at the restaurant part-time, had been through a fire of his own when his dairy barn burned years ago. After the fire, he gave Mike a card and a $500 check and reassured him that he would make it through the difficult days.

Brimeyer, his son Derek, who farms with him, Derek's wife, Shannon, and their daughter Braelyn, 2, were enjoying lunch.

"Helping each other is what we do," Dan said. "Mike would call me as a sounding board, and we'd talk about our feelings, what he was going through, what I went through. We were there for each other."

Dan said Mike and Cindy are great people. Whenever there is a fire, they send sandwiches and pop for the firefighters.

"After the fires, I told Mike that he needed to rebuild because the town needed him," Dan said. "It wasn't just me, many people here helped keep their spirits up."

Jean and Dan Gaul and their sons Luke and Tony stopped a tiling project on their nearby Holy Cross dairy farm for lunch at Breitbach's Country Dining. Their farm is next door to Mike and Cindy's.

Mike said the Gauls were at the restaurant offering their help even before the fires were out. They came every day during the rebuilding process, both times.

"The boys helped clear out the garbage, and they carried boards when they were building," Jean said. "That's what you do for neighbors. Mike, he'll do anything for us. Around here, it's what people do. If someone needs help, you help them."

"The whole town was here," Luke said.

Jean said that the town just wouldn't be the same if the Breitbachs' restaurant wasn't here. She and her family often rely on the eatery for quick carryout meals.

"Many times when we're working in the field, Mike delivers the order," Jean said. "He also brings meals to the elderly."