Meet the man who meets presidents.
Name: David Panther
Business: Hamburg Inn No. 2
Location: Iowa City
Hamburg Inn No. 2, owned and operated by David Panther, has more than one claim to fame. It’s Iowa City’s oldest family-owned restaurant, famous for its pie shakes (milkshakes with pie in them), but it’s also become a popular stop on the campaign trail for presidential candidates and other politicians.
The latter began in 1992 when former President Ronald Reagan stopped by while in the area for the Herbert Hoover Presidential Library rededication. Since then, politicians including Bill Clinton, Joe Biden, John McCain, Mitt Romney, Rick Perry, Hillary Rodham Clinton and Barack Obama have visited. This political season, Mike Huckabee held an event there.
How did your restaurant become a must for politicians and candidates?
Ronald Reagan came here in the ’90s. The Secret Service told us he may or may not come, but he did. He had said he liked meatloaf, so we made sure we had a meatloaf special for that day. At the time I owned a costume shop, so I was out dressed up like a jester delivering balloons. By the time I came back, the [event] was already over.
We do whatever we can to make it a success for them on-site. Our philosophy is to support whoever is here, giving people the opportunity to meet them and hear what they have to say. There have been some hecklers a few times, so we try to keep them outside. We’ve gained a reputation for being a good media outlet for the candidates as well as for the voters.
What do you love most about running a small business?
You ever have that feeling that you can’t work for anyone else? It’s control of your own destiny, good or bad. Overall, we’ve gone through the ups and downs. But it’s been really good, not only for me but for my dad. Around here when you run into people, sometimes you feel like a minor celebrity.
Also we’ve taken on projects with an elementary school four blocks from us, helping them out with their pancake fundraisers. We supplied pancakes and sausages and went over there and cooked it for them. We’ve helped with the fall school carnival. We try to help out in the neighborhood. You try to do what you can.
What advice would you give to other small business owners?
The main thing is you really want to pencil out your business plan and have a clear vision of where you want to go. The restaurant business has one of the highest failure rates. I think some people believe that all you’ve got to do is get a store and open the door. It’s more complicated than that. There is much, much more competition now. You’ve got gas stations that sell food, grocery stores having delis and catering services. But, with that, the populace eats out more. We’ve had a lot of businesses come into our neighborhood. You can’t be so involved in worrying about what others are doing. You have to keep focus on how to best improve [your own business].
What kind of business climate does Iowa have?
We’re in Johnson County, an Iowa City corridor. There’s a lot of growth. I don’t think we’ve been affected as much with the ups and downs other parts have gone through. I think with the university nearby, it hasn’t been as severe as it might have been. I believe we have, overall, a very good business atmosphere.
Why did you join NFIB?
A big part of it would be because they’re looking out for small businesses, [keeping tabs on] those in Congress to make sure we’re not regulated to death. I believe they’ve done a good job representing not only our restaurant but all the small businesses.
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