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Ex-bank in eastern Iowa part of restaurant contest

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News,Business

WEST LIBERTY, Iowa (AP) — West Liberty in eastern Iowa has been chosen as the site of new restaurant that will open as part of an annual contest that plies winners with financial and other assistance to bring new eateries to the state's smaller communities.

The restaurant would be housed in West Liberty's former Iowa State Bank Building downtown, which also used the be the home of the New Century Grill, the Muscatine Journal reported Saturday (http://bit.ly/1hlx690 ). No restaurant has operated there since the Grill closed in 2011.

Angie Schultz, owner of Opposable Thumbs marketing agency and an organizer for the Best Bite Challenge contest, said West Liberty was chosen over several larger communities. West Liberty's "cool, historic downtown location near major metros and very diverse population make it a hidden gem for the right restaurateur," according to a news release from the marketing agency.

"We were basically in a competition to host a competition," said Shannon McNaul, executive director of West Liberty Economic Area Development.

The winner of the Best Bite Challenge — now in its third year — will receive $2,500 in startup capital, more than $70,000 in restaurant inventory, six months' free rent and reduced rent for another 30 months. He or she will also receive website design and hosting, free marketing, food inventory from a local meat locker and fresh produce donations from local farmers.

Contestants are encouraged to study the town of nearly 4,000. They will submit their vision of the ideal restaurant, along with a business plan. From there, contestants will be narrowed to two finalists who will cook for a group of community judges, with the winner becoming the city's newest restaurant owner.

In previous years, the competition was held in Oskaloosa and Grinnell. The winning concepts in both communities remain open and are doing well, Schultz said.

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Information from: Muscatine Journal, http://www.muscatinejournal.com

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