The owners of an historic bar and restaurant billed as Iowa’s oldest eating and drinking establishment are debating whether to rebuild. A fire on Christmas Eve last year destroyed Breitbach’s Country Dining in Balltown, a tiny town north of Dubuque, near the Mississippi River. Exactly 10 months later the unthinkable happened. The rebuilt restaurant burned to the ground a second time last Friday morning.
Owner Mike Breitbach got at call at 3:30 a.m. from a cook who’s worked at the restaurant for 43 years. "She was crying so hard on the phone," Breitback says. "She said: ‘Come up right away. The place is totally engulfed in flames.’"
Six generations of the Breitbach family have run the business and Mike Breitbach and other family members met this weekend to discuss rebuilding. "I’m doing OK; time will tell," Breitbach told KCRG television last Friday. "It (has) been a long 10 months and now we don’t know."
After the last fire, the Breitbach’s rebuilt the restaurant, reopened in June and business was booming. On the Saturday before this second fire, the family-owned establishment served over 900 people lunch as the restaurant is a popular stop for folks out on a drive to enjoy the fall colors. Antiques from what started out as a stagecoach stop were saved from the first fire last Christmas Eve, but all was completely lost in this second fire. The building burned to the basement.
Local patrons like Mary Beth Theis are hoping the owners decide to rebuild. "It’s like a family member to the community," Theis says. "…To watch it all go up in flames again, it’s just unbelievable."
Cyril Elsinger of nearby Rickardsville was among the hundreds of people who went to Balltown to see the ruins. "I think they have to rebuild," Elsinger says. "I think it’d be very difficult for the community if they didn’t rebuild this facility."
The Breitbach family opened a stagecoach stop in Balltown in 1852 and residents of Balltown volunteered their time and effort to help the family rebuild the restaurant after the fire last Christmas Eve.