South Central Iowa Area Partnership

Face of a Food Champion: Bob Newell

Bob Newell worked at private clubs, city clubs, hospitals, retirement centers, colleges, and restaurants before becoming executive chef at the Rathbun Lakeshore Grille in Honey Creek Resort State Park in southern Iowa. This allows him to fulfill a dream—working with local food.

man cooking over a flame
Bob Newell makes bananas foster to order at Honey Creek Resort for a daddy-daughter dance in the ballroom. Photo contributed by Amber White.

“I’ve wanted to [work with local farmers] for 40 years,” he says, but explains that the companies he worked for in the past would not let him, because they required their suppliers to have insurance that most growers cannot carry. Honey Creek Resort is unique, because it is located in a state park. “Here the state encourages me to use as much local as possible. It keeps tax dollars inside state boundaries.”

When Newell moved back to southern Iowa in 2012 to run the restaurant, he met up with Melanie Seals and her husband Mike, who operated Country Road Produce “about two miles down the road.” They looked at what Country Road could grow and what Honey Creek could use and developed a plan for the year. In 2013 Honey Creek purchased a variety of vegetables from Country Road, including carrots, radishes, lettuce, spinach, tomatoes, peppers, zucchini, yellow squash, cucumbers and sweet corn.

For the first few months Country Road couldn’t keep up with the restaurant’s demand, as the Grille served up to 500 meals a day when the resort was full. Additionally, the restaurant catered for meetings, weddings and other functions at the state park. But the Seals soon adjusted. “It works out great,” says Newell of the relationship. “They deliver two or three times a week and [the vegetables] go right out the door.”

Since the partnership, Newell and Honey Creek Resort have received a lot of publicity. Both Newell and the Seals are quick to say where their produce comes from and goes to, and that generated “a fair amount of business,” says Newell. “Other restaurants jumped on board, too.”

At least two other restaurants now source from Country Road, says Newell, and he referred one of them. He says that Country Road is working now to increase its accounts with restaurants and sell less through farmers markets.

Newell purchases as many Iowa-grown products as he can, many of which are available through his distributor, Sysco. He uses Iowa-made Barilla pasta and Cookies BBQ Sauce, and buys Farmland and IBP meats, which are processed in Iowa. He has also found the Fareway store in Centerville to be a good partner, and since Fareway’s meats are Iowa-raised, “I get all my steaks and pork from them—it keeps the money in Centerville and provides them with a living. Fareway sends business out to me—it’s a win-win for both of us.”
Newell continues to make new connections with local producers and suppliers. He is searching for local honey and wild game. He explains that being in rural Iowa, it’s important to utilize the people around him to build business relationships. “It keeps them busy and keeps customers coming to me. A lot of people know the [producers] raising the [food I purchase] and come in and come back.”

About this story

This story was produced to accompany a report documenting the impact of the local food industry on Iowa’s economy associated with the efforts of the Regional Food Systems Working Group. Consult the statewide report: 2012 Economic Impacts of Iowa’s Regional Food Systems Working Group.

For more information on the local foods work occurring in the south central region, visit the Southern Iowa RC&D website.