Harold Ross is smiling somewhere.
The U.S. Navy veteran opened his diner, now Ross’ Restaurant, in 1940, and some of his longtime regulars still are talking politics at the institution’s classic horseshoe counter.
“What do you think of this Donald Trump guy?” Leroy Haessler asked his buddy as he poured syrup on a stack of flapjacks this week.
In less than a month, after 75 years of serving regulars, traveling musicians and politicians in downtown Bettendorf, the folks at Ross’ Restaurant will close the 14th Street diner and move north to 53rd Avenue.
Melissa Freidhof-Rodgers, granddaughter of the late Harold Ross and the restaurant’s general manager, saidconstruction for the new Interstate 74 bridge, which is forcing Ross’ to move, has caused some headaches this summer.
“Weekends have still been great, but during the week, people don’t have as much time to brave the construction down there,” said Freidhof-Rodgers, who lives less than a mile from the diner’s new location at 2297 Falcon Ave.
As of this week, Ross’ plans to close up shop at the current location on Sept. 20 and open the new digs, which formerly housed Frank’s Pizza, on Sept. 25. The current restaurant is soon to be owned and demolished by the Iowa Department of Transportation.
Meanwhile, the DOT has agreed to delay taking possession of the restaurant’s current building at 430 14th St. until Oct. 1.
Ross’ might become the first Bettendorf business to receive $25,000 from the city’s recently expanded façade program — the initiative's maximum subsidy — Jeff Reiter, Bettendorf’s economic development director, said.
According to city documents, Ross’ has invested $158,000 on exterior improvements to its new building.
“It doesn’t look anything like the previous building,” Reiter said.
Bettendorf aldermen this week approved Ross’ application for program assistance, and Reiter expects the restaurant will qualify for the full $25,000.
In recent months, Russell Construction crews stripped the building’s original exterior and redecorated it with a multi-layered stone finish.
“I get excited when I’m up there and look around,” said Freidhof-Rodgers, who said she’s confident the new diner will be ready to serve customers the weekend of Sept. 25.
While aldermen and city staff commended Ross’ forchoosing to remain in Bettendorf — the goal behind the incentive program — one resident spoke in opposition to the restaurant’s application for façade funds.
Ray Youngman of Bettendorf took issue at a recent City Council meeting with the fact that Freidhof-Rodgers sits on the façade program’s six-member advisory board, which recommended council approval.
Although Reiter contended that Ross’ manager abstained from voting on the restaurant’s application, Youngman was not satisfied.
“It’s a little strange we give businesses $25,000, which I figure is my tax money,” he said.
Back at the counter, Haessler reminisced about the good ol' days at Ross’.
“This time of day five years ago, you couldn’t find a spot at the counter,” he said.
“Everyone’s dying off,” his buddy, Terry Wells, said.
“The new Ross’ will be a whole different restaurant,” Haessler said. “Younger people will have to come in and take over our legacy.”
Fortunately, for longtime regulars, they still will find the restaurant’s vintage horseshoe counter seating at the new location.