Located in the small southwest Iowa town of Woodbine, Good Fellows 501 is a story of second chances.
First: the building.
The Odd Fellows Building in downtown Woodbine served as the lodge for the Internal Order of Odd Fellows, a fraternal organization that originated in 1806 and became the world’s largest fraternal organization by the end of the 19th century, reporting more than 2.7 million members in the 1920s. Since then, the organization, like many fraternal organizations, has experienced a decline and now claims 600,000 members across the globe.
Todd Waite, founder, co-owner and general manager, was one of a group of people who renovated the 19th-century lodge into a restaurant that opened in 2015. However, it wasn’t the restaurant that is open today. This is the second “second chance.”
This second chance began after the first restaurant’s untimely closing just two years after it opened. “Our team that had worked so hard and achieved so much scattered in different directions,” said Waite. “For a time, it seemed that would be the end of the story–a fading memory of a restaurant family haunted by the most unsettling of questions: ‘What might have been?’”
Waite continued: “Maybe as testimony to the old cliche that the world works in mysterious ways, our shared loss and heartbreak set the stage for an improbable comeback.”
After speaking with the building’s owners, who expressed the desire to find another restaurant operator for the location, Waite began contacting local business leaders and community members and started over. This time around, Good Fellows 501 was found to be the appropriate name for the restaurant.
“Our name pays homage to the building’s founders, the Odd Fellows, and the eclectic group of anonymous silent investors known simply as ‘Good Fellows.’ Good Fellows believe that if more of us valued food and cheer and song over hoarded gold, the world would be a happier place. As such, we aim to treat every guest like a Good Fellow, because without them, there would be no us,” said Waite.
Good Fellows 501 opened its doors in March 2018.
Their menu features made-from-scratch ingredients, from sauces to dressings to rubs and doughs. “Our bobinos (open-faced sandwiches) and bread pudding are fan favorites,” said Waite, “as is our Prime Rib & Shrimp special on Saturday nights. Our burgers are ground fresh in house and served on a toasted brioche bun. Finish your meal with an Irish coffee and a slice of double-layered chocolate cake with a scoop of homemade bourbon vanilla ice cream.”
Every Friday night, co-owner and kitchen manager Mike Ackerson, chef Juan Martin Rosa and pastry chef Kevin Risdal present a unique entree and dessert special.
“Our restaurant is a family,” said Waite. “We’re a band of outcasts and misfits whose lifespans range from 16 to 72. We’ve been through a lot together, highs and lows and everything in between. Through it all, we’ve learned from each other, looked out for each other and found a way to innovate and improve.”
For example, Waite said during COVID-19 the staff pooled tips to share with team members who were unable to work. They also introduced new approaches to their business, like a fast-casual lunch service with grab-and-go items, a food truck named “Judy,” a made-for-home meal kit, a meat counter they call “Butcher at the Bar” featuring hand-cut steaks and fresh ground chuck and a local delivery service.
“One of our goals is to be the best restaurant between Omaha and Des Moines,” said Waite. “It’s ambitious for a restaurant in a farming community of 1,500. Our ability to draw diners from the surrounding area is the only way for us to make it. Our food has to be something worth the trip, and so we take an old-fashioned approach: fresh ingredients in tried-and-true recipes, handcrafted by people who love what they do.”
Address: 501 Walker Street, Woodbine
Phone: (712) 647-3317
Distance from Downtown Des Moines: 123 miles
Hours: 11 a.m.-2:30 p.m. and 5-8 p.m. Monday-Thursday, 11 a.m.-2:30 p.m. and 5-9 p.m. Friday and 5-9 p.m. Saturday.
Drinks: Good Fellows 501 features a full bar with beer from six local breweries, handcrafted cocktails and wines from around the world. “Made of hickory, walnut, Brazilian cherry and maple, the bar top is worthy of marvel,” said Waite, “and a game of checkers.”
Events: “Join us on April 22 for live music in the Lodge Room,” said Waite. “Beginning this spring, Good Fellows will oversee the clubhouse and event center at the Woodbine Golf Course. Our food truck named Judy is available to rent and we offer full-service off-site catering for special events. And don’t forget to visit us on the last Saturday in September for Applefest, Woodbine’s annual fall festival.”
While You’re There: “Start the day with a cup of joe from Building Grounds coffee shop and browse the art gallery at Heavy Metal Renaissance,” recommends Waite. “Find your fit at Maxine’s boutique or spend an afternoon with Theresa at Stitchin’ Tree. Hike or cycle in the scenic Loess Hills. Play a round of golf at the Woodbine Golf Course or swim indoors at the newly constructed CREW Center. Overnight accommodations are available at Mitzi’s Place, a local bed and breakfast.”
This article originally appeared on Des Moines Register: Restaurant Good Fellows 501 aims to be best between Des Moines, Omaha