Imagine leaving behind a job in government in California to start a new life in Iowa, and your dream of opening your own restaurant begins on March 18, 2020 — the day the governor announces restaurant restrictions due to COVID-19.
This is the story of Eli and Michael Mueller and their restaurant Grace on Main in Elk Horn.
Their decision to come to Iowa was not taken lightly.
“Michael worked and gained extensive experience in fine dining and bartenders while in California,” Eli said. “After 17 years in the industry, he joined me to work for local government. After our close friends moved to this area of California, we started looking seriously at leaving the hustle and bustle of the city and building a new home in the Midwest. We traveled with them and visited them in the winter and fell in love with the idea Rural life wide open in a small town.
Eli said Michael refers to himself as a “self-taught cook” and has always had a passion for cooking.
“Back in California, we were hosting dinner parties and family and friends would join us for delicious food and good conversation. When Michael and I made the hop to move from California, we prayed for the next chapter of our lives. After moving here, a block was made available on Main Street, and it felt like Thanks to God that everything is in place so that we can open a restaurant.”
This is how they settled on the name, Grace on Main.
The opening on the day Iowa essentially shut down due to the pandemic immediately put the couple at a disadvantage.
“As a result, we lost more than $3,000 in products out of the gate,” Eli said. “To stay open, we served pizza through our window at the entrance door and started offering a meal prep service. The first year was a struggle, to say the least. We were not eligible for PPP (Pay Protection Program) money in the first round as we were unable to deliver Tax documents for the previous year, which were required to show the loss.”
As the name of their restaurant suggests, Muellers is quick to show nimbleness about the experience.
“It was the unwavering support of our community that kept us afloat,” Eli said. “The pandemic has taught us how to pivot quickly.”
Open again and running at full speed ahead, Mullers work together to run the restaurant.
“My role is to manage the front of the house and all aspects of the restaurant business,” Eli said. “Michael is responsible for managing the back of the house, organizing the menu and (planning) the weekly specials.”
Eli describes their menu as “a soul-nourishing comfort food.” Grace on Main specializes in pizza, pasta, sandwiches, salads and desserts. Their goal is to provide fresh, high quality meals to their patrons.
“Our pizza dough and sauces are made in-house. We smoke chicken ourselves, pickle red onions, wrap 250-350 meatballs a week and make cheese jalapenos, bread puddings and desserts — to name a few. “
Eli said their most popular dishes are Bruschetta, Mediterranean Salad, Smoked Chicken & Bacon Sandwich, and Fettuccine Alfredo.
“Michael’s pizza is really great – especially the dough. He ate 300 pounds of flour before he picked up this recipe.”
Most-ordered pizzas include D&D—with house-made white sauce, mozzarella, chicken, spinach, and bacon—plus Crab Rangoon, Cheeseburger, and Carnivore. You can also order a made-to-order pizza with toppings of your choice.
Claire Chapman of Elk Horn said, “I love Maine-style Grace for bringing new pizza flavors to our small town. Favorite specials are Crab Rangoon Pizza and Thai Peanut Pizza. Awesome. I’ve traveled the world and never had a pizza as good as these two.”
Mullers offers many special events throughout the year. The second annual Black & White Gala will be held in December. “This event sold out the first day we opened it up for purchase (last year), and we already have people emailing us asking to reserve a spot,” Eli said.
The couple plans to host an intimate dining experience with limited seating called the “pool table” in the near future.
“Michael will prepare a multi-course meal with dishes specially selected to fit a particular theme and wines or spirits to pair with the dishes. Because Michael has the freedom to decide the course of the meal, diners will have the opportunity to experience Michael’s creativity around the dishes that really excite him,” Eli said.
“Something special happens when we gather and stop and refresh with good food and conversation,” she added.
Tabuk: 2105 Broadway Street, Elk Horn
Distance from downtown Des Moines: 83 miles
hours: 11 a.m. – 2 p.m. and 5-8 p.m. on Wednesdays, Fridays, and Saturdays. 10 a.m. – 2 p.m. on Sundays.
Reservations: In general, you do not need to make a reservation unless you have a group of six or more. Then Mullers suggest you call the restaurant in advance.
SundaysGrace on Main offers a revised menu on Sundays. “It includes a lunch menu in addition to any pizza from our regular menu. Our most popular brunch items are Biscuits & Gravy, Carnitas Breakfast Burrito, Breakfast Sandwich, Breakfast Pizza and Vanilla Bread Pudding. “
drinks: The restaurant has a full bar, including handcrafted beer, wine, and cocktails, including Pear & Elderflower Spritzer, Lavender Bliss, and Blood Orange Moscow Mule. They also offer specialty coffee drinks.
candies: On a daily basis, you can order one of the popular desserts such as Honey or S’mores Pizza. If you’re lucky enough to be around when Michael’s famous scones are available, you won’t want to miss those.
“Michael bakes on Thursdays if he has time,” Eli said. “His cakes are a hot commodity. When we get them, we post them on social media and always sell them out.”
while you are there: The Mollers fell in love with the town of Elk Horn when they visited and were fortunate to find their own land outside of Danish villages. While you are in town, it is suggested that you visit the Danish Windmill and the Danish Museum.
“Shop locally in Copenhagen Friday, the old Danish workshop or Egg Krate, to name a few, and visit the local Danish Countryside Vines and Wines,” she said. “Need a place to stay? Stay at The Country View B&B located in Elk Horn.”
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