'It really is comfort food': Historic Niland's Cafe in Colo reopens under new management Friday
COVID-19 closed Niland’s Cafe in August, but the historic Colo diner is reopening Friday under the new management of Danny and Abi Wilson, longtime Colo residents.
The Wilsons are starting with a smaller menu full of homemade items, including tenderloins made using their own recipe.
“We’re so excited. It took longer than expected to get open because of Covid,” Danny Wilson said. “The menu is going to be kind of limited at first. I just want to make sure that we do good food — good quality from scratch — and then add on.
“We’re going to make everything ourselves except a few things like onion rings and cheese balls.”
The menu will also include items like burgers, roast beef, pulled pork, mashed potatoes and gravy, plenty of side dishes, pie, shakes and ice cream.
“We truly hope that we can offer something with a little more heart in it,” Abi Wilson said. “It really is comfort food.”
There will be made-from-scratch biscuits and gravy on weekends, she said. And she will be making pies and baked goods.
“My dream is to make pie in the mornings and have the farmers come in for coffee. Coffee and pie is my favorite breakfast,” Abi said. “That’s my hope.”
From opinion:A slice of Americana: Noon hour at Niland’s Cafe
Updates to the small-town Iowa diner, motel
There are a few changes in store for patrons. The vintage Cadillac that used to be parked in the dining room has been moved next door to the gas station museum to more than double the seating to 10 areas, both booths and tables.
Situated between two other historic buildings, the Colo Motel and the gas station museum, Niland’s Cafe has display cases in the front room of the cafe and historic signs throughout. The display cases were donated by Duane Pundt of State Center.
“The history is so important to people,” Abi said. “We have so many people who come in and take photos and selfies.”
The Wilsons painted the walls of the cafe along with other updates and made improvements to six rentable rooms of the Colo Motel. Rooms are $60 per night, including a mini-fridge, free Wi-Fi and cable television.
“It had been about 20 years since the motel rooms have been redone,” Abi Wilson said. “We repainted everything and put new blinds and bedding in there.”
New owners have deep community roots
Danny and Abi live in Colo and have five children, ages 2 to 18, in the Colo-NESCO school district, where Abi teaches. She doesn’t plan to return to teaching next year, so she can focus on the cafe and motel.
Danny, who grew up in Colo, currently works for the city and has his own carpentry business on the side. Abi grew up in Adel, attended Iowa State for education, and is in her ninth year teaching at Colo-NESCO.
“This is a whole new project for us,” Abi said of the cafe and motel. “We’ve never been involved in anything quite like this, but we’re really excited about it.
“Between me working in the school and knowing everybody — parents and students — and Danny’s family (having) been around here for generations, we’re really trying to pull that community aspect into the cafe.”
Historic significance at intersection of Jefferson, Lincoln highways
Niland's Cafe is located at the Reed-Niland Corner beside a restored gas station and Colo Motel at the junction of the Lincoln and Jefferson highways near Colo.
The buildings are owned by the Colo Development Group, and the Wilsons are leasing and managing the businesses.
In the early days of automobiles, two major roads named after former presidents, the Jefferson Highway and the Lincoln Highway, intersected just outside Colo and became known as the Reed-Niland Corner, according to a historic plaque outside Niland’s Cafe.
In 1923, Colo farmer Charlie Reed began selling gasoline, and soon after that added food and lodging to his roadside services. Reed was assisted in the businesses by his nephew M. Reed Niland. Three generations of the two related families served customers for more than 70 years as the location became known unofficially as the Reed-Niland Corner or Niland’s Corner.
Located at 24 Lincoln Way in Colo, Niland’s Cafe is open Fridays, 11 a.m. to 7 p.m., Saturdays, 7 a.m. to 7 p.m., and Sundays, 7 a.m. to 2 p.m.