Taking Up the Family Business

For many people in and around Bettendorf, Iowa, enjoying a traditional family meal doesn’t mean gathering around the table in their own homes. It means going to Ross’ Restaurant, a local landmark that has been owned and operated by the same family for 74 years.

At Ross’ Restaurant, the second, third, and fourth generations of the Ross-Freidhof family welcome neighbors and visitors with heirloom recipes for foods like cinnamon rolls, 24-hour chili, and a signature ground beef, potato, and Cheddar cheese monument called the Magic Mountain.

Ross’ Restaurant was the realization of the American dream for Harold Ross, explains his granddaughter Melissa Freidhof-Rodgers, who has served as the restaurant’s general manager for 12 years. Her mother, Cynthia, daughter of Ross, and her father, Ron Freidhof, own the establishment.

“My grandfather wanted to open a place that served great-tasting food in a setting where people felt at home,” Freidhof-Rodgers says, adding that local residents feel so much at home at Ross’ that it’s become a regular community meeting place. It’s also a magnet for those passing through, including political candidates—and even President Obama and Vice President Biden have eaten at Ross’.

Ross’ serves breakfast, lunch, and dinner 24 hours a day, and is known as much for its commitment to being a good neighbor as it is for its food.

“We have deep roots in the community and we develop a unique relationship with our customers,” she says. “That’s what happens when a restaurant serves the same families for four generations—we get to know them so well, and they become like family to us.”

Staff members are also part of the extended Ross-Freidhof family, and it’s not unusual for servers to have been with the restaurant for 40, sometimes even 50, years.

In fact, one might say the entire community is one big extended family. Ross’ supports local farms by serving locally produced and grown products, including more than 5,000 cage-free eggs from local farms each week.

“We do this—not because it’s the least expensive thing to use—but because it’s the best thing for our community, for the local economy, and for our customers,” she says.

In recognition of their commitment, the family recently won the grand prize in a national contest to honor America’s Best Restaurant Families. The contest was sponsored by Jones Dairy Farm, itself a six-generation family-owned operation in Fort Atkinson, Wisconsin.

Ross' owners Cynthia and Ron have been involved with the business for more than 40 years, while Freidhof-Rodgers, who grew up working in the restaurant, has been a part of it for 30 years. She believes what would make Harold Ross most proud would be to see that the legacy continues: His great-granddaughter, Sylvia, 13, works there on the weekends, along with her brother, Kirin, 7, who’s already holding doors for customers and cleaning tables.

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