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Iowa’s Best Bite Restaurant Challenge

WEST  LIBERTY, IA (CBS2/FOX28) - Iowa's Best Bite Restaurant Challenge crowned a brand new winner on Thursday.  Laura Gilbert and her boyfriend, Robert Miller, became the contest's newest winners.    
It's a national competition that works to put restaurants in rural communities. Contest winners receive a $120,000 restaurant startup package.  The package includes  $70,000 in equipment and inventory, six months free rent, 2.5 years of reduced rent and $2,500 in advertising. The prize package is provided by a West Liberty building owner that is offering free rent off of 100 3rd Street East in West Liberty and nine additional sponsors.   Cities compete to take part in the competition.
"Sometimes it's hard for smaller cities to attract the attention they deserve. Some of our contestants had never heard of Wet Liberty before the contest," Angie Schultz, the contests' organizer said.
Before Wednesday, there were three semifinalists in the completion that started out with about 20 applicants. They included finalists from last year's competition, a Niagara Falls, New York, couple, Christopher and Karen Ward. Their concept featured Karen's love for culinary trends and tapas. They were eliminated prior to Wednesday's final.
 The first finalist, Zach Goldsmith of Iowa City, Iowa presented his vision for "The Flavor of West Liberty" and "The Vault" an upscale restaurant and gastropub. The second set of finalists, Laura Gilbert and Robert Miller of Caterville, Illinois, prepared international flavors for their concept called the, "Copper Penny Bistrot."
The finalists were given two hours to prepare their meals and another hour and forty-five minutes to present their business plan for the restaurant. Each finalist received $300 to prepare an entree, main dish and dessert for a group of 22 people. At the last minute, they were asked to scratch their main course choice and make hamburgers instead to liven up the competition.  The judges included local business leaders, last season's Best Bite Challenge winners, and local community members.
 "It's been pretty tough mentally," Goldsmith said of the process that began in February.
Gilbert echoed Goldsmith's sentiment, "It's a real challenge she said,"
Both of the finalists expressed a love for West Liberty and a passion to become a transplant in the community. For both, it is an opportunity to make good food and help increase economic opportunities in a small Iowa city.
 "When we add a new restaurant to the area, we add jobs, we add economic vitality and we also add a social vitality to the community," Shannon McNaul with the We Lead, Economic Area Development in West Liberty said.
 Goldsmith emphasized his love for Iowa food and for putting money back in the community. Gilbert did the same.
"I think West Liberty needs someplace that they can bring families to. This means a beautiful thing can happen for West Liberty," Goldsmith said.
"If we're to move here, if we win this contest, we would like to put our money back where we live," Gilbert said.
Just after 3:00 p.m. on Wednesday, the winners of the contest were announced.  Laura and Robert will be bringing their restaurant concept to West Liberty. It is expected to open October 1st of this year. Through tears Laura added that the victory was a culmination of hard work and a comeback after being hit by a drunk driver. Gilbert, who lived as a child in Newton, Iowa, said this will be a homecoming for her.                  
In the past two years, the contest placed restaurants in Grinnell, Iowa and Oskaloosa, Iowa. Both, "On The Green" in Oskaloosa and the "Prairie Canary" in Grinnell are thriving according to Bryan Schultz, the owner of Iowa's Best Bite Restaurant Challenge.  Shultz also added that both restaurants have a wide customer base from cities all around. 
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