Niland's Cafe reopens with expanded dinner hours, hand-cut ribeyes and a liquor license
With expanded hours, Reed has added hand-cut ribeye steaks to the menu, along with homemade pork tenderloins and freshly baked pie.
For the first time, Niland’s Cafe has a liquor license, and there’s a selection of beer, wine and mixed drinks.
Mix that all together with a strong management team, and Reed may have the winning result.
The restaurant has seen management changes several times in recent years, closing for several months each time. Most recently, the cafe closed in January 2022.
Located at the intersection of two historic national highways, the Lincoln Highway and the Jefferson, the cafe is owned by the city of Colo, along with the adjacent Colo Motel.
Reed opened Niland’s with expanded hours. The restaurant is open for lunch and dinner Wednesday through Friday, 11 a.m. to 8 p.m.; Saturday from 8 a.m. to 8 p.m., breakfast served until 11 a.m.; Sunday from 8 a.m. to 2 p.m. with a breakfast-only menu. It’s closed on Monday and Tuesday. The bar is open later than the restaurant most days.
The restaurant has already been busy, going through about 300 pounds of ground beef last week. But the bar is off to a bit of a slow start. Reed suspects people aren’t aware of that addition yet, and she expects alcohol sales to increase.
Kelsey Reed also has Kelsey's Kitchen in Baxter
Reed is no stranger to the restaurant industry. She opened Kelsey’s Kitchen in Baxter, formerly the Blue Ribbon Cafe, just over a year ago.
“I was not planning on taking over a second restaurant,” Reed said with a laugh.
But when she became aware of the opportunity, she felt compelled to take it.
She was getting ready to work out at the gym in Collins and was scrolling through Facebook. An ad popped up that Niland’s Cafe needed management.
“I called the number thinking they just needed someone to manage it —not take it over,” she said.
She learned the situation: Niland’s Cafe and the Colo Motel are owned by the city of Colo. If Reed took the job, she’d be the one to make decisions about key items like the menu, staff and hours.
She’d eaten at Niland’s many times over the years and “always thought it was a really cool place, so when this opportunity arose, I wanted to try it.”
She skipped her planned workout and made her way straight to Niland’s.
Menu includes breaded tenderloin, hand-cut ribeyes, Hawaiian burger
“I took some things from my Baxter restaurant’s menu that are really popular and added them here,” she said.
Niland’s menu includes hamburgers and cheeseburgers, including some specialty items, like the Hawaiian Burger, which features grilled pineapple, grilled onions and a teriyaki-soy sauce marinade on top of a burger patty.
“We do our own breaded pork tenderloins and we have ribeye, which we cut our own off the loin,” Reed said. “We do a fish fry every Friday night – fish or shrimp, or both.”
She likes to source food locally and gets the shrimp and beef loin from Sedlacek's locker in Melbourne.
She’s planning to have a selection of 11 different flavors of ice cream.
Homemade pie is baked by Malorie Blink, who offers slices like strawberry-rhubarb, apple and peach.
“I just tell her, ‘Whatever flavors you want to make this week, it’s up to you,’” Reed said.
Reed's team includes John Fritz, retired Country House owner
Reed has also surrounded herself with strong leadership as she splits her time between both locations.
One of Reed’s cooks is John Fritz, the retired owner of the Country House, which operated southwest of Colo from 1991 to 2020.
“John brought me some of their old menus, and we came up with something together that we think everybody will like,” she said. “I also did some Facebook polls, asking people what they want to see on the menu.”
Prior to opening the Country House in 1991, Fritz spent several years as a chef in the Des Moines metro area, including as executive chef at the downtown Savery Hotel.
Jessica McKinney is also a cook at Niland’s, and she’s a great counterpart to Fritz.
“John comes in and starts to prepare things in the morning. He makes all of our dressings, homemade,” Reed said.
He also makes his hot beef, a dish for which he’s well-known from the Country House years. The hot beef sandwich is served with mashed potatoes and gravy.
After the lunch rush, McKinney takes over and works through the day and night, joined by Kate Thompson, who comes in at night.
“I have a great team but I’m looking for more cooks because everyone here is working a lot of hours,” she said.
History 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 official address is 24 Lincoln Way, Colo.
The Niland Cafe and Colo Motel buildings are owned by the Colo Development Group, and Reed is 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.
The Lincoln Highway was the first highway to span the United States from east to west. It opened in 1913, stretching from Times Square in New York City to Lincoln Park in San Francisco.
The Jefferson Highway was built in the 1910s, running from New Orleans, Louisiana, to Winnipeg, Manitoba in Canada.
In 1923, Colo farmer Charlie Reed (no relation to Kelsey 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.