The building that sits at 1029 3rd St SE in Cedar Rapids has roots almost as deep as the city itself. It was erected by the Matyk family, immigrants from Czechoslovakia, in 1893, only 44 years after the city was incorporated. The building began its life as a dry goods store, with the family living upstairs. The family operated the business until the late ’40s, when it became the home of Mid States Distribution, a consumer electronics store.
The structure has had several lives over the years, including being the early home of the NewBo Bike Collective. But if, like me, you were in your late teens in the early 2000s, you probably remember 1029 3rd St most vividly as the Candleworks Building. This phase of the building’s life began when it was purchased by Lynette and Michael Richards in 1999. At the time, Lynette was a counselor at Metro High School, and Michael had invented soy candle wax and founded Soyawax International. The building served as an arts space for Lynette’s students, Soyawax’s marketing offices and the couple’s home.
As Candleworks, the building played host to performances that ran the gamut from plays to hip-hop shows. As a teen and young 20-something, I attended art shows and watched my friends’ bands play. As a young mother, I attended an art and music performance that LV’s very own Jordan Sellergren organized for us and our friends’ young children. The space gave many people a launching pad for creative endeavors that lasted beyond their high school years.
Such was its influence that the building and its performances were featured in a documentary, Graffiti Verite V. Los Angeles filmmaker Bob Bryan shot footage of a four-day Metro High School hip hop workshop that took place in the Candleworks space.
Like most of Czech Village, Candleworks was a victim of the 2008 flood, taking on 12 feet of water. In the aftermath of the disaster, aided by a grant from the city, Lynette and Michael undertook a painstaking restoration of the building, removing the white paint from the exterior to reveal the original red brick and limestone, adding new steel support beams and giving the building a new façade.
The Bohemian is the result of a 20-year labor of love reflecting the couple’s travels and love of art. It’s an eclectic, glamorous rabbit warren housing over 100 pieces of art gathered from 20 states, seven different countries and spanning three centuries. The space functions as a restaurant, venue and gallery and is divided into different zones, including a wine cellar accessible via a reclaimed spiral staircase, an atrium, a French salon and the main floor Matyk Café, named for the building’s original owners. And there isn’t a television to be found, encouraging visitors to take in their surroundings and engage with those around them.
True to their long history, Lynette and Michael are keeping things local when it comes to the restaurant’s offerings. The chef and sous chef are both veterans of CR restaurants: Head chef Josh Lafferty has worked in the kitchens of community favorites such as Riley’s, Butcher Block and White Star and sous chef Ian Trask was formerly the head chef at Daniel Arthur’s. The menu was inspired by dishes the owners tried as they traveled up and down the Mississippi River: items such as brisket, ribs and pulled pork, with creative twists added by Lafferty to make them the Bohemian’s own. Meats are smoked on site and nearly everything is made in house, with Lafferty and Trask creating the recipes for the signature sauces themselves.
The restaurant’s vendors and suppliers are local, too. Produce comes from area farms such as Abbe Hills, Echollective and Jupiter Ridge, and herbs are grown by Lynette and Michael themselves. The 1st Avenue Wine House helped curate the wine collection, and the bar will feature Iowa beers.
The venture also remains a family affair. Three generations of the Richards family work there, including Michael and Lynette, their two sons and a daughter-in-law and their granddaughters.
The restaurant is using a fast-casual service model, in which customers order at a window and then their food is delivered to the table.
And now for the food. My original plans for trying the Bohemian for the first time included ordering dinner and a cocktail and enjoying it languidly on the rooftop patio with a friend. These plans were foiled by the infernal heat, worries over the Delta variant and a digestive system in full revolt over the number of heavy takeout meals I’ve consumed during the pandemic. So I revised my plans and picked up a side dish and a dessert to accompany our already planned dinner.
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I chose the mustard Brussels sprouts and the peach bourbon bread pudding because they were versions of things I already knew I loved and I thought they’d hold up to commuting 30 minutes and being reheated after we’d prepared the other parts of dinner. I was able to place and pay for my order online via the Toast app, a convenience I really appreciated since it meant I could order from my office and it would be ready to pick up by the time I arrived at the restaurant after work.
You enter the Bohemian through the door at the building’s right side, beneath the rooftop patio. Once inside, you pass through a set of red double doors and are greeted by signs pointing out the locations of the bar and ordering window and one encouraging curious visitors to ask for a tour.
To pick up my order, I merely gave my name and was given my order. In pandemic times, I especially appreciate a streamlined takeout process.
As I had hoped, the food was no worse for the wear after my 30-minute commute. The Brussels sprouts were enormous — seriously, I may call back and ask who supplied them — and they were cooked to the perfect degree of doneness. The honey mustard glaze was sweet and tangy, and there was enough of it to thoroughly coat the Brussels sprouts (but not so much that you couldn’t taste anything else). The perfectly balanced dish accompanied the tuna steaks we’d made for dinner as if they’d been meant to be eaten together.
The bread pudding was like no version of this dish that I’ve had before. First of all, it was the size of a very generous cake slice, probably three by four inches in size and about two inches thick. I got one each for my boyfriend and myself, but we easily could have split one and still eaten it for two days. The peach bourbon glaze was poured over the top and soaked down into the pudding, and there were roasted marshmallows on top. It was another deftly balanced and super tasty dish. I had feared that with all those sweet ingredients, one would overpower the others or the whole dessert might be a bit too sugary for my taste, but everything was in proportion. The flavors were all discernible and complemented one another. The texture was also excellent: decadent but not too dense. I look forward to returning and getting to try many other items on the menu, as these two things offered an excellent preview of what the kitchen is capable of.
The Bohemian lives up to its name by bringing together diverse elements — art from all over the world, design elements from different eras and the marrying of food and hospitality with the arts — into a colorful and joyful whole. It would require dozens of visits to take in all the details of the space and hear all the stories behind them, so each experience will be a new one. The Bohemian and the Richards are citizens of the world and deeply rooted in this community, and they have found a beautiful way to express that through food, art and loving stewardship of this Cedar Rapids landmark. It seems fitting for a building that has lived many lives but never forgotten its past.
Presented by CHOMP.
Tiffani Green is an Iowa City-based writer and Little Village columnist. Her food column, The Takeaway, features reviews of local take-out restaurants. This article was originally published in Little Village issue 297.