Before they opened the Cider House in Fairfield, the bar and restaurant’s four owners were planning to leave Iowa to start new lives overseas. But a shared love of apple cider changed all of that.
Hopi James and Cole Fishback were planning to move to Australia, while Annalisa Thompson and Clint Stephenson were headed for Germany. But even as they were making those plans, the two couples were spending their free time crafting small batches of homemade hard cider.
“We would spend summer nights walking around Jefferson County picking wild apples. We knocked on strangers’ doors and asked if we could pick their apples,” James said. “We spent so many late nights juicing.”
Stephenson is part owner of King Edward’s Orchard outside Fairfield, and he and Fishback had started experimenting with making their own cider. It sparked a thought — what if they could turn their hobby into a business?
“It all started with hard cider,” James said. “We were making cider in Clint’s basement and making burgers at the house. We thought we would do a burger shack to feature the cider. We like to do burgers and cider hand-in-hand — we think they pair really well together.”
The four took a trip to Europe and were inspired by the ciders they tasted there, which they found to be drier than many American hard ciders. They wanted to bring that taste back home.
“They’re more funky, farmhouse styles, with not a lot of sugar,” James said. “We’re kind of trying to slowly share that style with Iowa.”
At the Cider House, they feature their own cider and guest taps, along with an assortment of ciders imported from Europe. They also have a full bar with an extensive scotch collection — once a month they host a scotch pairing dinner.
They opened the bar in October 2014 after spending the summer renovating the space, a small building near downtown Fairfield that used to be a barbershop. At first they just served drinks, opening the kitchen that December.
Just five months later, the Iowa Cattlemen’s Association and the Iowa Beef Council named their Das Kraut burger the 2015 Best Burger in Iowa.
The award, coming so soon after they opened, made them jump into the restaurant business running — and they quickly had to trade in their kitchen’s grill for a bigger one.
“We had to adapt very quickly to accommodate all the customers who came after that,” Thompson said.
The Das Kraut burger is topped with sauerkraut, grilled pineapple, pickled jalapeno, Swiss cheese and spicy mustard. The meat for their burgers comes from another friend, Tony Adrian of nearby Adrian Family Farms, where the cows are partly fed on apple mash left over from cider production.
Winning best burger came as something of a surprise, James said.
“We were all vegetarians as kids. The Cider House burger is still the only burger we’ve eaten in our lives,” James said.
The four all grew up in Fairfield, moved away and then moved back. They didn’t plan to stay, but said they’re glad things have worked out the way they have.
“By planning on going abroad, we were looking for that adventure, and we found it right here in Fairfield, of all places,” Thompson said.
“We decided to stay to really do the cider thing,” she said. “I’m really grateful and have no regrets at all. It’s really a blast and exceeded our dreams. It’s been intense, and it’s been a roller coaster, but we’ve all stuck by each other.”
WHERE: 102 N. Second St., Fairfield
WHEN: 4 to 9:30 p.m. Tuesday to Thursday, 4 to 10 p.m. Friday and Saturday
DETAILS: (641) 980-0423, jeffersoncountyciderhouse.com