CEDAR RAPIDS, Iowa — In the five years since opening her dream restaurant at the edge of downtown Cedar Rapids, Jess Johnson has endured the pandemic, Iowa’s hurricane-strength derecho and almost a year of road closures that continue to nearly envelop her business.
Even as her restaurant, Runt’s Munchies, has managed to survive, Johnson decided the time is right to move to a new location.
The last day for Runt’s Munchies, at 529 Fifth Ave. SE, was Wednesday, May 25, 2022, as she plans to relocate blocks away to the former site of the Blue Strawberry, 118 Second St. SE.
Johnson cited the long-running road closures among factors in her decision.
Sixth Street SE, the main thoroughfare passing along her restaurant, was closed for construction from July through December 2021, and as the street finally reopened, the city closed Fifth Avenue SE, the cross-street in front of Runt’s Munchies, to accommodate the company building an apartment complex across from the restaurant.
TWG of Indianapolis, Indiana, plans a development with 224 housing units on the site, encompassing the entire city block across from the Cedar Rapids Public Library.
Related: CR takes sledgehammer to history
The street closures have made it difficult for customers to reach Runt’s Munchies and Johnson was concerned that would only worsen as construction progresses on the complex, with more workers parking around it.
Named for her childhood nickname, Runt’s Munchies featured daily specials, made-from-scratch desserts and unique menu items, such as the “F Bomb” egg rolls, with Buffalo chicken, jalapenos and pepper jack cheese.
“My dad has called me runt pig my entire life because I’m the youngest and the smallest,” Johnson said with a grin, adding that the restaurant name also reflects her love for pigs.
Quirky pig motif decor and the “case of yum” to hold her decadent cookies, bars, cupcakes and other treats, will make the move in the coming weeks and she plans to add breakfast once she reopens at the new site, hopefully in June.
The building housing Runt’s Munchies was likely constructed in the late 1800s or early 1900s and was moved to its Fifth Avenue location in 1922. Over the years, it has housed the Great A&P Tea Company; grocery stores, laundromats, CR Collectibles/Home Plate Sports Cards, and more recently, the Caribbean Kitchen, a Jamaican restaurant. Runt’s Munchies opened in May 2017.
Due to the road closures, Johnson hasn’t been hiring employees in the past year, but will once she relocates, pointing to another reason for her move.
“We’ve outgrown this place and it’s time to expand,” she said of her diminutive restaurant, which seats 22. “It’s definitely bigger over there.”