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New Jethro’s BBQ location planned in downtown Des Moines


For years, entrepreneur and restaurant owner Bruce Gerleman has dreamed of opening a Jethro’s BBQ restaurant near downtown Des Moines’ Iowa Events Center, which before the pandemic attracted more than 1.1 million visitors annually.

Next summer, that longtime dream will become reality.

Gerleman purchased a 6,800-square-foot, two-story office building in June that long had been the headquarters for Master Builders of Iowa. (In September, the group moved to a new facility in West Des Moines.) 

Gerleman is now in the process of converting the 54-year-old office building at 221 Park St. to a restaurant that will become home to Jethro’s BBQ, a chain of restaurants that he began in 2008. In September, the city of Des Moines issued a building permit valued at $850,000 for remodeling work underway at the building.

“This location will be the closest restaurant to the event center, so you know it’s going to be fabulous,” Gerleman said. “There’s just so much going on there with all the different conventions, trade shows and meetings, concerts and athletic events that occurs there.”

The Iowa Events Center includes Wells Fargo Arena, Community Choice Credit Union Convention Center and Hy-Vee Hall. In the fiscal year that ended June 30, 2019, the center hosted 467 events that attracted more than 1.1 million visitors, according to its annual report.

Visitors to the events center have few dining options near the facilities. Buzzard Billy’s is at 615 Third St., south of where Jethro’s will be located. Other restaurants and bars are located farther south and on the east side of the Des Moines River in the East Village.

Last winter, Gerleman was in the process of remodeling the kitchen of his first Jethro’s BBQ restaurant near Drake University when he learned Master Builders of Iowa was selling its property on Park Street. Gerleman, who owns and operates seven other Jethro’s restaurants in Central Iowa, said he made the difficult decision to permanently shutter the establishment at 3100 Forest Ave. The property is listed for sale, he said.

“This location [on Park Street] is just such a better location than Drake,” Gerleman said. “Drake is less than three miles away, so that’s really just too close together for two [Jethro’s].”

Gerleman said he expects the new Jethro’s to be open sometime next summer, possibly as early as June 1. The timing will depend on how quickly supplies arrive that are ordered. He said recently ordered an elevator and was told it would take 17 weeks to be delivered.

Dealing with issues related to the supply chain has been challenging, he said. More difficult, though, has been meeting Des Moines’ building and energy code requirements, Gerleman said.

For instance, the building includes a lot of glass, all of which has to be replaced, he said. “I assumed that the glass would be fine, but I’ve got to replace all of it to comply with the energy codes.”

Gerleman said the downtown location, which will seat about 400 people, will be a “legacy-type property.”

“It’ll will be like Splash [Seafood Bar and Grill], which is in its 25th year across from the Civic Center, said Gerleman, who owns the seafood restaurant. “They’re not going to build another Civic Center. The new Jethro’s location is the same thing – they’re aren’t going to build another Wells Fargo Arena.”

PHOTO ABOVE: The photo above shows the two-level office building at 221 Park St. that is being converted to a Jethro’s BBQ. Photo courtesy of Polk County assessor

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