WATERLOO — Jeff Starbeck and Cindy Herman, owners of Starbeck’s Smokehouse, are branching out. At least for a little while.
The pair have agreed to take over the restaurant space located at the rear of the Hippodrome (formerly McElroy Auditorium) for the duration of the National Cattle Congress Fair.
“It will be kind of like a pop-up restaurant,” Starbeck said.
The space, which seats 80, features vintage booths, cement floors, painted cinder-block walls and a counter where patrons can place orders.
“It’s pretty old school,” Starbeck said, “but we’re trying to liven it up.
“I must have asked 150 people if they knew about this place, and only two said they did,” he said. “But it’s a great spot to come in and sit down in the air conditioning and enjoy the fair atmosphere.”
Starbeck’s took possession of the space just three weeks prior to the start of the fair, which begins Thursday.
Just a week before opening, Starbeck was finalizing signage for the space and trying to track down some bread racks.
“You know, it’s a million little things you have to think of when you are coming into a new space,” he said.
Two months ago, Karen Coffin, Cattle Congress co-manager, approached Starbeck with a proposition.
Coffin, who has worked with Cattle Congress for 33 years, had tried Starbeck’s food when she would pick up dinner for her and her husband.
She said it was their “great tasting food” that prompted her to approach Starbeck.
“I asked him if he would be interested in being a sponsor for the fair, and he said yes,” she said. “And we’ve been working together ever since.”
Coffin said the space Starbeck’s will occupy was built in 1936.
“We used to have Kentucky Fried Chicken in there — up until 1990. OP Pizza used to be in there, and most recently we ran it ourselves and served burgers, hotdogs, wings and deep-fried food.
“We wanted to try something new this year.”
Starbeck and Herman, who opened Starbeck’s Smokehouse just over a year ago, think it will be a great way to introduce more people from the Cedar Valley to their product.
“We want to bring quality barbecue to the fair,” Starbeck said.
“I’m really excited to be a part of it,” he said. “I remember as a kid listening to Paul Harvey talk about the National Dairy Cattle Congress on national radio. He would say it was where cattle go to Congress.
“Starbeck’s has been in operation for a year now and it has become a hotbed for farmers — pig farmers, cattle farmers. They all thank us for what we are doing, so I’m excited to offer them my product here at Cattle Congress.
“I know the people here have been working hard to build up the fair and I’m hoping to bring some traffic in to help.”
Starbeck said they will be smoking meat on site during the fair, and their menu will include pulled pork sandwiches; brisket; pulled pork nachos; Iowa philly sandwiches with pulled pork, melted cheese and jalapenos on a hoagie bun; and loaded fries with pulled pork and cheese sauce.
“And we will be serving strawberry smoothies,” Starbeck said. “We have a four-gallon blender to make smoothies.”
Coffin said bringing Starbeck’s to Cattle Congress is a good fit.
“We’ll be having the Iowa Rodeo Association final here, and those guys like a good sandwich,” she said.
Starbeck said taking on the space during Cattle Congress will be quite an undertaking.
“We’ll pretty much be working 24 hours a day for six days, as the smoking process alone takes 12 hours and we’ll have to get a lot of food ready.”
While the fair opens Thursday, Starbeck’s will begin serving from the Hippodrome site Wednesday.
“That will be kind of a dry run,” Starbeck said. “There will be set-up people here and rodeo people. It will give us a chance to work all the kinks out.”