Iowa City downtown destination Melk closes its doors

After six months in business, Melk has closed its doors for good.


Michael Guhin

Melk’s closed location is seen on Monday, June 17th, 2019.(Michael Guhin/The Daily Iowan)

Brooklyn Draisey, Summer editor

A late-night hotspot for students with an interesting hook has closed its doors for good in downtown Iowa City.

Melk, a cereal bar and diner that opened in early December, closed after just six months in business. The menu featured more than 25 cereals, an assortment of milk options, a standard breakfast menu, burgers, and sandwiches.

“Melk Diner is closed, forever,” a sign posted on Melk’s front window said. “To all our guests, we greatly appreciate your support.”

Jacob Pajunen, the founder and owner of Melk, said business was growing overall during the school year, but there were definitely ups and downs. He said the establishment probably opened at the worst time, around the University of Iowa’s winter break, and business went down when students weren’t around.

“Being in a college town, we’ve got what like 30K students who come and go throughout the year …” Pajunen said. “As summer hit, you could tell when the last day of classes were because business really dropped off.”

Danielle Beavers, a UI student, has worked at Melk since the beginning. She said it was a fun job, and everyone was really nice.

“All of our serving staff, managers, everyone in the kitchen were very nice people, really laid-back; everyone kind of knew each other, actually,” she said. “… Anyone who previously wasn’t friends with everyone got along with everyone else just fine.”

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Beavers said she hadn’t really expected Melk to close, but she wasn’t really surprised by it, either.

“I saw that summertime did bring a decline in business, so I kind of questioned how well we would do,” she said. “But I thought also we would make it through to next semester and then recognize that summer was our less popular time and still make it through and carry through with business during the semester.”

While Melk wasn’t doing badly, Pajunen said, it was still difficult to try to make a profit with rent downtown being so high, along with labor costs in Iowa City. The establishment also didn’t sell alcohol, which, he said, was good for being open late but bad for profits.

Pajunen said he also received a business opportunity in California that he couldn’t pass up. He tried to sell Melk, then offered to let employees run the business while he backed them financially from afar, but he said they didn’t want to take the risk if something happened.

Beavers said Melk was a great place to start for her first serving job, and she’s sad to see it go.

“Overall, I’m pretty sad that it closed, I thought it was a fun place for people to hang out with,” she said. “It had a late-night special which not a lot of downtown places really offered. It was refreshing to have Melk there.”

One idea Pajunen has for the future is a Melk food truck out in California.

“I enjoyed running Melk, I love Iowa City, and I appreciate everyone who came out and helped us,” he said.