NOTE: Runt’s Munchies, 529 Fifth Ave. SE, is open 11 a.m. to 7 p.m. Monday through Saturday. Closed Sundays.
CEDAR RAPIDS, Iowa — More than four years ago, Jess Johnson opened Runt’s Munchies, a diminutive restaurant in a historic building on the edge of downtown Cedar Rapids.
“We’ve survived COVID and the derecho, but we can’t survive this,” she said of the pandemic, Iowa’s 2020 hurricane-strength straightline windstorm, and now, the months-long road construction enveloping her small business at 529 Fifth Ave. SE.
The project, which includes roadway, sidewalk and utility replacement on Sixth Street SE, started in early July and is expected to end by mid-November.
“We’re not going to be here when construction is over,” Johnson predicted.
Since construction began, a decreasing number of customers have been finding their way to the restaurant, at the corner of Fifth Avenue and Sixth Street, just a block or so from the downtown public library.
Johnson noted traffic that previously came down Sixth Street is nonexistent due to the road closure, and even the parking on Fifth Avenue is torn up in front of her business, making access difficult.
“There’s really only one way to get here,” she said of the library route from Fifth Avenue, but many customers would rather not navigate the construction.
Runt’s Munchies had built a loyal following until the road project began, which also put an end to any passersby who might happen upon the restaurant.
Built around 1900, the building has served a multitude of purposes, including a grocery store, comic book and baseball card shop and previously was home to the Caribbean Kitchen, a Jamaican restaurant.
Johnson has filled the interior with quirky pig decor and wall signs, while retaining the historic nature of the building, including the black and white checkerboard floor.
“This has been my dream,” she said of Runt’s Munchies, which serves tiny pizzas; “fried goodness,” such as loaded mashed potato bombs; sliders; salads; wraps and unique egg rolls, including the “F Bomb” with Buffalo chicken, jalapenos and pepper jack cheese, all at incredibly reasonable prices. For example, a recent lunch special featured chicken noodles over mashed potatoes with side salad for just $6.59.
Then there are the decadent desserts like cookies & cream cupcakes, Fruity Pebbles cookies and to-die-for blonde brownies.
Coverage by KCRG-TV9 early on in the construction helped shine a spotlight on her plight, Johnson said, but customers all came at once, overwhelming the 22-seat diner, and since then, the numbers have dropped considerably as the road project has dragged on.
She doesn’t fault the construction crew, which has been on schedule, but wishes the project had been done in phases or the city had been more forthcoming about the extent of the excavation, which went beyond Sixth Street and onto Fifth Avenue.
“I’m not going down without a fight, but determination doesn’t pay the bills,” Johnson said, adding she is unsure of her plans if she does have to close. “I’d have to get a job because I still have debt.”
Learn about the area where Runt’s Munchies is located — Ghosts of a Cedar Rapids Neighborhood — and see more photos, below:
Jess is such a sweet gal and truly loves her customers. Our family stumbled upon her place long before the derecho and we love it and Jess! It would be unfortunate to lose her business. Order door dash if you need to…let’s keep Runt’s alive!
I deliver for Grubhub and I didn’t know this slice of heaven existed. The first time that I had to pick up an order when the construction started, I didn’t know how to get to them. So, I walked up the street and right through the construction worksheet. I was bound and determined to get there no matter what. The next time I was able to the other side of the building. These ladies have always been so nice when I come in. I don’t want to see their dreams get destroyed because Cedar Rapids couldn’t or wouldn’t figure out a different way of doing this construction differently. Like one of the ladies said, they could’ve done it in sections. I will be calling Runts Munchies to see if there’s anything I can do as a resident of Cedar Rapids, to help keep them from closing. They shouldn’t be doing so much construction all at once because that just ties up a lot of businesses.
I’ve had the pleasure of having lunch here a couple of years ago and was more than impressed with the chill vibe, and fun atmosphere! It took us longer to choose from the many menu items than it did to recieve our tasty lunch!
We also took home some amazing cookies and cupcakes from the bakery section that absolutely were a delight!!
I will be ordering from here much more often even if I have to walk a block or 3 to pick it up to support this local business!!
Praying this gets worked out for you Jess!! Have faith and don’t give up on your dream!!
Jess is like a firecracker that explodes is sweet treats and good food. Her wit, straight to the point conversation and tenacious baking skills will leave you smiling. This is a lil business that NEEDS to survive.
Come on Cedar Rapids, stop by and give her a chance, she’s a small business with a big lovable attitude.
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