Zombie Burger stalks out of Iowa City

The+Ashby+family+dines+at+Zombie+Burger+for+the+first+time+at+the+Iowa+City+location+on+Monday%2C+Jan.+22%2C+2017.+The+family+likes+to+support+smaller+business+and+make+an+effort+to+dine+out+every+couple+weeks.+%28James+Year%2FThe+Daily+Iowan%29
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Zombie Burger stalks out of Iowa City

The Ashby family dines at Zombie Burger for the first time at the Iowa City location on Monday, Jan. 22, 2017. The family likes to support smaller business and make an effort to dine out every couple weeks. (James Year/The Daily Iowan)

The Ashby family dines at Zombie Burger for the first time at the Iowa City location on Monday, Jan. 22, 2017. The family likes to support smaller business and make an effort to dine out every couple weeks. (James Year/The Daily Iowan)

The Daily Iowan; Photos by James

The Ashby family dines at Zombie Burger for the first time at the Iowa City location on Monday, Jan. 22, 2017. The family likes to support smaller business and make an effort to dine out every couple weeks. (James Year/The Daily Iowan)

The Daily Iowan; Photos by James

The Daily Iowan; Photos by James

The Ashby family dines at Zombie Burger for the first time at the Iowa City location on Monday, Jan. 22, 2017. The family likes to support smaller business and make an effort to dine out every couple weeks. (James Year/The Daily Iowan)

Brooklyn Draisey, [email protected]

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The Iowa-born restaurant with a post-apocalyptic twist is nearing its end in Iowa City.

The Iowa City Zombie Burger + Shake Lab, 180 E. Burlington St., will close its doors on Feb. 3 after being open for a little over a year. The Coral Ridge Mall location will remain open.

Co-owner Paul Rottenberg said a year was long enough to examine how the store has done and have a notion of how well it will do in the future. He said his team came to the conclusion that the cost of keeping it open is too great.

“It’s been open long enough to see what the sales trend is, and we just haven’t been able to achieve the sales necessary to make that concept successful,” he said. “We don’t see a path to find the sales.”

Zombie Burger uses fresh food and makes its product by hand, which means larger profits are necessary, because fresh food costs more, Rottenberg said.

The Iowa City location employs 20 people, a team that location manager Douglas Tobin said was the best one he’d had in his seven years in Iowa City.

“This has been the best team I’ve had in three different restaurants I ran, and, it was like I told my boss, it was almost going to waste because it’s such a good team here,” he said. “I don’t even have to manage because I’ve got a hardworking crew that like their jobs and are fun.”

Celeste Crowell, a recent college graduate, has worked at Zombie Burger since its opening as a front-of-house worker and assistant manager. With the closing, she said, she is back on the job market and is sad to be leaving.

“It’s pretty disappointing, because we have a really great crew, we all get along really well, and it’s a fun place to work,” she said. “It’s a good company to work for.”

The Iowa City store has a location that Rottenberg and Tobin said seemed perfect at the time. It is a part of Iowa City’s bustling downtown and is close to campus, which creates a lot of foot traffic. Despite all this, the restaurant didn’t have people walking through the door.

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“We have people walking by all day long, and we thought it was going to be a great location, and it just never took off for us,” Tobin said.

There are two unique features of this location: a quick-service counter and a mural made specifically for Iowa City. This is the only stand-alone restaurant with a quick service counter, similar to mall locations. Rottenberg said it was an experiment, and it didn’t pan out.

Rottenberg said he wasn’t sure what was to become of the mural, which won’t be put in any other location because of the Iowa City theme, but he’s open to trying to find a way to keep it in the city.

Now it’s time to analyze just what went wrong with the store, Rottenberg said.

“I think we’re going to sit back, and look, and try to figure out what happened there, because it’s a great location and a good community, and we need to understand why our brand didn’t resonate as well as we thought it would,” he said.