WEBSTER?CITY- RAGBRAI riders give up a lot of creature comforts biking across Iowa in July temperatures, but when they reach their overnight stops they have a wealth of choices in food vendors.
Around 16 food vendors set up shop in Webster City Tuesday morning, both from local restaurants and from sellers who travel with the riders. Bike vendors and others brought the total number of booths up to 26, according to Eric Brownell, a member of the Webster City vendor committee.
Brownell had his own food stand at the event from his restaurant, Eric's Grille. Although he's been in the restaurant business for 25 years, he said this was the first time he'd done an outdoor food event. Still, he knew what to expect.
"I know it's going to be busy, we're going to get our butts kicked, and we'll eventually run out of food until we can heat more up," he said.
The vendors appreciated the work Brownell and the committee had put into the event.
"This town took a lot of pride in the event," said Don Alberts, of Clarion, as he assembled his Taco Shack. "We've been to a couple different ones but I could tell this one, they were really on top of their game.
"They were really organized. One thing we really notice is that every time they come by they're asking if they can help, or if we need anything."
Hamid Karam, of Des Moines, took his Mediterranean Grill to Monday's stop, and will continue until Saturday. He said he usually gets into a RAGBRAI town early in the morning, but spent the night in Webster City instead.
"The hotel provided us the electricity for my coolers and my freezers," Karam said. "Not a lot of hotels will do that."
Karam said some towns make it easier than others to get in and set up.
"Here, you guys organize everything. I like it," he said. "The way you do it here, I don't see no other RAGBRAIs do this. Trust me, I've been doing this for three years."
Karam and another vendor offered gyros, baklava and other Mediterranean fare. Along the road, bikers could find hot dogs and brats, fajitas, barbecued chicken, grass-fed beef, or even pizza cooked in a wood oven.
The Vesuvius Wood-Fired Pizza booth is owned by Scott Coldiron, of Ames. He said he wasn't sure what to expect at RAGBRAI, but seemed ready to keep up with the demand. His wood-burning oven was built in Italy, cooks at 900 degrees and finishes each pizza in about 90 seconds.
Beth Morris-Cathcart, of Peterson, sold grass-fed beef with fresh vegetables.
"We're trying to provide the most nutritious, fresh, close-to-the-vine food that we can," she said. "We just load them up with healthy beef and vegetables. We shop every day at the local stores."
St. Thomas Aquinas School and the Webster City Middle School both prepared dinners beginning at 3:30 or 4 p.m., as fundraisers. St. Thomas students sold cold drinks outside the church, while concessions and pies were for sale inside the middle school building. Both buildings offered a welcome breath of conditioned air.
Water and soda were available in abundance to keep up with the hot weather, and many booths offered freshly squeezed lemonade. A booth from local restaurant Whoop-De-Dos and La Te Das sold homemade ice cream. Siblings Mike and Robin Hamer, of Woolstock, brought a booth from Fleur Farms selling Aronia berry smoothies.
Morris-Cathcart had another way to keep hydrated.
"Our latest thing is our pickletini," she said. Since Monday, her booth has been selling a large pickle, some ice, and the pickle juice.
"People have told us it is medicinal," she said. "People need the salt."
The local Morning Glory Coffee Shop had moved to a tent out front of its regular location on Des Moines Street, and was selling a variety of specialties, including frozen coffee and fruit smoothies. Still, at midday, bikers were opting for hot coffee.