Chic coffeeshop The Dingo Bar opens in Iowa City

By Frankie Schneckloth and Kelli Ebensberger

A newly opened French cafe is poised to be a feather in the Peninsula Neighborhood’s cap. The traditional Americana style of this community has always provided loads of visual curb appeal, and The Dingo Bar aims to follow suit.

Dingo Bar owner Jessica Kinney helps the baristas serve customers on a busy Saturday morning. -- photo by Frankie Schneckloth
Dingo Bar owner Jessica Kinney helps the baristas serve customers on a busy Saturday morning. — photo by Frankie Schneckloth
Aptly named after the Dingo American Bar and Restaurant frequented by expatriates like Ernest Hemingway and F. Scott Fitzgerald in Montparnasse, the coffeehouse is located at 1040 Martin St. in the Peninsula Neighborhood near Thornberry Dog Park.

Co-owners Jessica Kinney and Adam Pretorius met at the Executive MBA program here at the University of Iowa, and their individual career paths culminated in opening a new business here in Iowa City. Pretorius is a realtor and long-time resident of the Peninsula Neighborhood and Kinney worked 10 years in Boston — the last eight working for a Michelin-starred chef — opened five restaurants and now operates Airbnbs in Chicago.

“The idea kept coming up during our second year in the program, but it was a lot to take on for one person,” said Kinney. “Finally, … I said, “Why don’t we do it together?” and immediately it felt like the right fit.”

What is in a name?

The Dingo Bar is located at 1040 Martin St. -- photo by Kelli Ebensberger
The Dingo Bar is located at 1040 Martin St. — photo by Kelli Ebensberger
The coffeeshop fits well into the UNESCO City of Literature with such a literary inspired name. Kinney and Pretorius explained, “While the Dingo Bar is meant to be an ode to Lost Generation living in Paris during the 20s, we aren’t specifically aiming to be ‘Hemingway inspired.'”

Their affection for that period of literary history and desire to bring a fun air to the business led to the name. Kinney said, “We also like that ‘dingo bar’ is memorable and a little silly — it’s a coffee shop, we want people to be drawn to it and have fun here.”

Parisienne sensibilities

The Dingo Bar is a elegantly modern and urban space, bringing a metropolitan feel to a small town. A charming array of French bistro patio tables invite you in off the street, and once inside, the attention to detail is obvious in this little corner cafe. Edison bulb-esque light fixtures dazzle above the cozy banquette seating, and bold tile choices mingle with brass fixtures and accents throughout the cafe.

Kinney and Pretorius co-designed the space and Amy Pretorius executed the buildout and helped complete some of the details. The owners stated, “The design element was very important to both of us; we wanted a bright space that felt different and stood out … We are hoping to be a comfortable space, but with a lot to look at and take in.”

Locally-sourced eats

Attention has been paid not only to the cafe’s decor choices, but also in the sourcing of their menu items. The Dingo Bar has assembled their menu offerings by culling the best of the area; delicate macarons are handmade by Deluxe Cakes and Pastries, the fabulous sourdough bread used for their custom toast bar is made by baker extraordinaire, Aaron Hall of The Local Crumb, and the beautifully rustic doughnuts come from aptly named Rustic Hearth Bakery in Cedar Rapids.

The Dingo Bar features a toast bar, offering both sweet and savory options. -- photo by Frankie Schneckloth
The Dingo Bar features a toast bar, offering both sweet and savory options. — photo by Frankie Schneckloth

Many of their raw products also come from the community. Their proteins come from The Sausage Guy and Big Boy Meats in Cedar Rapids; their eggs come from Rapid Creek Ranch in Oxford; their dairy is from Dan & Debbie’s Creamery in Ely; the various microgreens come from Kalona.

Kinney said, “The environment is very important and sourcing things locally puts less strain on the environment; as well, supporting local and independent businesses and purveyors has always been very important to me.”

The push to locally source their menu also stems from a desire to foster a healthier community. “Food that is natural and fresh is healthier for our bodies, our children, and our world,” said Kinney. “We want to commit to sourcing as locally as possible and right now that includes our bread, eggs, milk, pastries, sausage and bacon, and as many other items as we can do.”

Big city brews

Nicely brewed batch coffee from Bow Truss out of Chicago is also a selling point for the cafe, providing approachable specialty coffee for those who prefer their morning brew without the fanfare of steamed or foamed milk.

The pastries are locally made by Deluxe Bakery, Cliche Patisserie and The Local Crumb. -- photo by Kelli Ebensberger
The pastries are locally made by Deluxe Bakery, Cliche Patisserie and The Local Crumb. — photo by Kelli Ebensberger
Kinney and Pretorius found a kindred spirit with Bow Truss. “We knew we wanted a company that shared our values, was doing their own roasting, and was excited to work with a new area of the Midwest,” said Kinney. “I met with Bow Truss and they have a great company philosophy, are committed to quality, and it was the perfect match for our Iowa City shop.”

The classic blend is a well balanced medium roast without too much acidity or bitterness, perfect for sitting down with a good book and indulging in their free refills. For those looking to indulge a bit, The Dingo Bar baristas also execute classic cafe drinks easily–try a Cortado or Cafe au Lait.

Cozy up in the cafe

The shop also features a free library spread throughout various built-ins and floating shelves. Kinney said, “The free library in the coffee shop is a little bit of a dream of mine. I was able to sift through a lot of my childhood books, my parent’s books, and make them available to the public.”

This literary contribution had a particularly nostalgic flavor for Kinney. She said it was a “profound experience” going through her parent’s books. “We sold their house this past spring, and being able to put their old books into a new space, available to the public, has been a very real tribute to their memory,” she said.

Kinney and Pretorius emphasized their desired role in the community, stating, “Community is the most important thing to us — restaurants of any kind are meant to be a third space where people can gather.”

In a growing neighborhood, The Dingo Bar is a welcome addition. Kinney said, “We’re hoping that there’s something for everything — the neighborhood, bike community, family friendly and of course a place for book-lovers.”

The Dingo Bar, Peninsula Neighborhood
Carrie Van Orden, owner of Body by Carrie, enjoys a breakfast among friends at The Dingo Bar. — photo by Kelli Ebensberger

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