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West Liberty Issues Tasty Challenge

WEST LIBERTY, Iowa (CBS2/FOX28) -- West Liberty is telling local chefs and wannabe restauranteurs to take on a tasty challenge: reinvent a local eatery, reinvigorate downtown, and in return, get the restaurant of your dreams.

The downtown area may only span a few blocks, but it is the kind of place where strangers came out of the wood work to help local business owner Chris Martin start the coffee shop Local Grounds when she first came to town.

"And you just kind of got this sense that people really cared that you were doing something, that we were involved in something and making something happen," Martin said.

Now, the staff at the West Liberty organization We Lead are trying to harness that power again.

The old bank building at the corner that used to hold the Century Grill has been empty since 2012, and We Lead is putting up some serious prizes for the right chef to come in and take over the space.

We Lead is offering up help with business plans, marketing, website design -- even reduced rent -- and if the restaurant lasts for three years and signs an additional three year lease, it gets $80,000 of kitchen equipment.

The organizers are looking for a restauranteur who not only sees herself in the kitchen, but also, in the West Liberty community.

"I think if people know how many cool things were here, we would explode," We Lead executive director Shannon McNaul said about the town. "It would be nice to see a Saturday where you couldn't find a parking space."

And this is about more than just a good plate of food -- it's about turning a community into the place it wants to be. Just ask Todd Leach -- he renovated the New Strand theater back in 1996 -- and is the kind of guy who'd be happy to help set up the town's next small business.

"Because little towns are where it's at," Leach said, with a laugh.

The contest is being run through a program called Iowa's Best Bite, and you can find out more information, including how to apply at

We Lead is also holding a fundraiser for local economic development initiatives, Taste of West Liberty, on Saturday, March 22 from 6:30 to 9:00 p.m. at the Century Grill building. For more information, contact We Lead at 319-627-4045.
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