The Machine Shed Restaurant brings classic Midwest cuisine to the masses through their franchise centered on the American farmer. What started as a single family-owned restaurant in 1978 in Davenport, Iowa three hours east of Des Moines has grown to be a multi-state organization with locations in Illinois, Minnesota, Wisconsin and Iowa.
Despite the huge success, the Machine Shed still remains loyal to its family roots and its motto, “Dedicated to the American Farmer.” The Machine Shed started out with a vision to create a holistic agricultural experience through their restaurant, and the owners enact this concept in multiple ways at the Machine Shed.
The Machine Shed is a restaurant first and foremost, and offers guests a high quality of food.
“A big part of what we do is doing things the right way,” Tim Graham, executive manager at the Machine Shed in Des Moines, says. “We make things from scratch and we cut our own steaks in house. We do it not because it’s easy, but because it’s the right way.”
The menu contains a wide variety of dishes, but a few favorites stand out among customers.
“My favorite is the homemade baked potato soup,” Jennie Deerr, a regular patron of the Machine Shed, says. “The cinnamon rolls are as big as your head, and they’re a meal within themselves.”
Other customer favorites include the Iowa pork chop, which has won national awards, including the Iowa Pork Cook Off and National Pork Recipe Contest. The dishes are served family style, adding to the homey feel of the restaurant.
Customers who want to bring the delicious food back to their kitchens can attend the cooking classes put on by each restaurant. The classes are put on monthly by the executive chef of the restaurant, and each class focuses on a different type of dish, such as a pork or steak dish. Each restaurant offers adult and children’s classes, and all classes are open to chefs of all ability levels to learn more about Midwestern dishes and cooking.
The source of the food itself also pays homage to the American farmer. The owners pride themselves on obtaining as much food as possible from local providers or from their own garden. The type of food acquired locally depends on the season, but the beef and pork are locally bought year round. This local aspect of the food assures patrons their meal goes to more than just satisfying their appetites – it goes back to the community.
The agricultural experience the Machine Shed provides doesn’t stop at the food. Once at the restaurant, patrons may take tractor rides in the summer or visit the garden where many of the restaurant’s vegetables come from, creating a comprehensive farm atmosphere.
“I think the most important thing about the Machine Shed is that we are more of an experience,” Michelle Hoaglin, Machine Shed representative, says. “It’s all about learning about agriculture.”
“‘Talkin’ Farm at the Shed,” an event put on by the Iowa Food and Family Project, occurs quarterly at the Machine Shed in Des Moines and literally brings the farm to customers. Local pork, dairy, turkey and soy farmers who provide ingredients to the restaurant come to share their agricultural experience while sharing a meal with patrons, creating an uncommon but special interaction between producer and consumer.
“During the event, I go around and ask families if they would like to talk to the farmer who produced the pork they’re eating, and then I can go ahead and bring the farmer and his wife over,” Kat Wood, manager at the Machine Shed in Des Moines, says. “It gives farmers a platform to share their viewpoint and experience with the food production. Nowadays people are somewhat out of touch with where they get their food, but this event gives them a chance to reconnect. The interaction is priceless.”
Because the Machine Shed sponsors and works with organizations like the Iowa Food and Family Project, farmers are able to spread their knowledge of agriculture, and the customers are able to learn more about where the food comes from.
Though no formal partnership exists, Living History Farms, an interactive outdoor farming museum located next to the Machine Shed in Des Moines, also benefits from the community-minded actions of the Machine Shed.
“It’s very nice to have the relationship,” Deerr, who is also the Vice President of Marketing at Living History Farms, says. “We are both promoting farming, so they’re great to have as neighbors. If people call looking for place to eat nearby, the farm theme fits well with Living History Farms.
The Machine Shed most recently provided food for the participants of the Living History Farms Off-Road Race, the largest cross-country race in North America that Living History Farms hosts annually in November. At the event, up to 7,500 runners trek through creeks, around hay bales and to the tops of gullies.
“It’s very cold around that time of year, and the participants do a lot of running through creeks and dodging hay bales,” Deerr says. “The Machine Shed has been so generous to provide.”
As evidenced by their work with Living History Farms, the Machine Shed isn’t just generous with their portion sizes. Patrons who visit any of the six locations throughout the Midwest will leave feeling full of hearty food, agricultural knowledge and a respect for the American farmer.