Z’Mariks Noodle Café opened its doors in 2002 in Iowa City, Iowa. Owners Dave and Ellie Allen began with a vision of creating a dining destination that united fresh food with fast service at an affordable price. Z’Mariks has grown its business to several locations in central Iowa and last year franchised its first location in Rapid City, South Dakota near Mount Rushmore.
We chatted with Ellie Allen to learn more about how Z’Mariks got its start.
What prompted you and your husband Dave to start Z’Mariks?
We both worked in the corporate world after college but we were very passionate about the restaurant industry. My parents owned a restaurant so I grew up in the industry and worked in restaurants my whole life. We noticed the noodle café and rice bowl restaurant trend and really loved them personally. While we saw those types of restaurants on the East Coast and West Coast there wasn’t anything like it in the Midwest. We thought that if there was ever a town that could appreciate the newness of the concept it was Iowa City. That’s how Z’Mariks was born!
For someone who’s never been to Z’Mariks, how would you describe it?
Z’Mariks is a fast casual restaurant that uses lots of fresh ingredients and has a big selection of healthy options. We offer anything from our renowned Mac ‘n Cheese to rice bowls, soups and salads. Since my heritage is Greek we also have a few Greek options. On Mac Mondays we offer $4 Mac Bowlz, and we’ll be starting a Kids Eat Free special on Saturdays soon.
What have been some of the biggest challenges for you over the past 12 years?
In Iowa City there have been so many changes in the downtown area in terms of other restaurants and bars that we’ve really had to continually reinvent ourselves to stay interesting for our customer base. We constantly adjust our menu to offer new and interesting dishes.
How did you start banking with MidWestOne?
When we decided to start the restaurant we were still pretty young. But we really believed in our concept and we were determined to finance it ourselves, without getting our families involved financially.
We had heard wonderful things about MidWestOne (Iowa State Bank and Trust at the time) and when we pitched our idea they truly believed in us. They took a leap of faith and that meant a lot to us. When we opened in 2002, I still remember that we had a line out the door and Charlie Funk stopped by and gave us a big smile and two thumbs up. It was amazing. We love MidWestOne.