The independent newspaper of the University of Iowa community since 1868

The Daily Iowan

The independent newspaper of the University of Iowa community since 1868

The Daily Iowan

The independent newspaper of the University of Iowa community since 1868

The Daily Iowan

New York Times names The Webster in Iowa City on top restaurant list

Owners, Sam and Riene Gelman, are humbled to know that all the hard work has been worthwhile.
Dillon Jacobson
A chef cooks in the kitchen at the Webster in Iowa City on Saturday, Sept. 30, 2023.

The New York Times released its 2023 Restaurant List, and The Webster, located at 202 N. Linn St., was the only establishment in the state of Iowa to make the list.

The list is composed of 50 restaurants nationwide that are exciting its food editors.

Owners Sam and Riene Gelman opened the restaurant in 2021. Sam Gelman reminisced about his childhood, having enjoyed meals at the Pearson’s Drug Store, which once stood where Webster is now located.

Growing up, his father and grandfather worked nearby, prompting them to enjoy meals together at the lunch counter in the back of the drug store.

“I remember coming to get a lot of milkshakes and egg salad sandwiches as a kid growing up,” Sam Gelman said.

He left Iowa City to study at The Culinary Institute of America in Hyde Park, New York, where his success in the restaurant industry started. After graduating, Sam Gelman continued improving his craft, working with distinguished chefs such as Ken Oringer and David Chang.

After spending time in different restaurants across the country, as well as Canada, the Gelman’s decided to move back to Sam’s hometown to open the business.

“I grew up here, so I have a lot of ties to the community and family here,” Sam Gelman said. “I always kind of wanted to come back to Iowa City to open a restaurant, so it happened.”

The menu

The upscale restaurant boasts a seasonal menu with fresh, high-quality ingredients, sourced locally when possible.

Sam Gelman said a changing menu is natural for him and the way he cooks, emphasizing the quality of the food is most important, even if that means starting prep work at 9 a.m. for a 5:30 p.m. opening.

“It’s a lot of work to produce food like this,” he said. “We don’t buy things that are ready-made. It’s not just coming off of a truck and getting heated up. Everything is produced here with love and care and respect for the product that we get.”

Riene Gelman said guests have seemingly enjoyed the changing menu, with regulars that have been dining with them since opening.

“I think people have really enjoyed seeing things return seasonally,” she said. “Right now, we have a squash soup that people started asking about late August, [early] September. So they can have it again and take full advantage of it while they can and then move on to the next one.”

New York Times recognition

“Despite upheavals in recent years, this is an expansive moment for independent restaurants,” the New York Times wrote. “We can’t help but feel that cities and towns in the United States are better to eat in today than they have ever been. It wasn’t easy to narrow it down, but here are the 50 restaurants that excite us most right now.”

NYT writer Brett Anderson mentioned Sam Gelman’s history as a “top lieutenant in the chef David Chang’s restaurant group,” as an ode to The Webster’s food and dining experience.

“With its window-lined dining room and vibrant, Asian-accented, often locally sourced dishes, the Webster treats Mr. Gelman’s hometown as an asset, and serves a compelling enticement to visit this cosmopolitan corner of the Midwest,” Anderson wrote.

Sam Gelman said he is thankful and humbled to be honored on the list.

“We have never set out to win awards or to be recognized by things like that,” he said. “But it’s great when it does happen, helps to make all the hard work and the blood, sweat, and tears worthwhile.”

The excitement has been clear through regular customers and Iowa City as a whole, according to Riene Gelman.

“I think everyone around the city is really excited about it too,” she said. “I’ve talked to everybody who comes in and they’re all very excited for us. It’s kind of neat.”

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About the Contributor
Sydney Becker
Sydney Becker, News Reporter
Sydney is a senior at the University of Iowa majoring in Journalism, while also obtaining a writing certificate. Previous to her role as a news reporter, she worked as a sports reporter for The Daily Iowan during her freshman year and as an editorial writer for campus organizations.