Axios Des Moines

Picture of the Des Moines skyline with DSM written across it.
October 08, 2021

It's Friday, and we've got a great weather weekend ahead.

  • Lower 80s/upper 70s through Sunday and no rain.

🎃 How old is too old to trick-or treat? Do you give teens candy or tell them to buzz off? Take our anonymous survey here and we'll share the results.

Today's Smart Brevity™ count is 930 words, a 3.5-minute read.

1 big thing: The art behind a burger special

Burgers from Lachele's
Carne King Slopper Thing ($11) and Cajun lobster fritter with andouille gravy ($14). Photos courtesy of Lachele's Fine Foods

We all know what to expect when ordering a burger: a patty, buns — maybe a slice of cheese and a squirt of ketchup.

But just off Ingersoll Ave., in a pink and blue diner, Lachele's Fine Foods takes America's favorite meal and turns it upside down — transforming it into whatever zany theme or pop-culture reference they have in mind for their Special of the Day.

Why it matters: Food should be fun. And a burger with Mountain Dew sauce or a giant chicken nugget is nothing if not fun.

  • Plus, specials break up menu monotony, keeping chefs energized and customers hooked on a you-must-come-in-now experience.

How it works: Lachele's owner Cory Wendel and executive chef Jake Cole bounce ideas off each other and their cooks for what should go on the specials list each week.

  • Some concepts come from cultural references like Honey Boo Boo, In-N-Out or "Clifford the Big Red Dog." Others are creative plays on familiar favorites, ranging from gas station food to lobster.
  • Flavor profiles and textural contrasts are considered. And there is such a thing as too much. No more than two sauces or two proteins is the general rule of thumb.

The fans: Dishes often sell out, especially on weekends. It's not wild to see people line up outside, or for the restaurant to close early.

  • And their Instagram — which documents all their burger-flipping fun — has amassed a cult following.

Yes, but: The real driving force behind Lachele's are their classic flat-top cooked patties, sizzling in grease.

  • Menu burgers are simple, but that means every facet is carefully considered, from the vegetables sourced to the handcrafted patties, Cole said.

The biggest compliment they can receive? Being told their burgers remind them of a bowling alley. That's love, baby.

2. Mapped: Behind on the rent

Data: National Equity Atlas; Chart: Kavya Beheraj/Axios

Roughly 52,000 Iowa households are currently behind on rent, owing an average of $1,900, according to census data analyzed by National Equity Atlas.

  • To compare, the average American household behind on rent owes about $2,552.

Why it matters: Yesterday we told you how Iowa's slow distribution of federal emergency rent assistance could put the state at risk of losing millions of dollars.

  • While we're in a better position than some states, assistance remains a critical need for lots of families.

Resources for rent and utility assistance:

​​3. Prairie Meadows grants return

Illustration of a charity ribbon made from a hundred dollar bill.
Illustration: Aïda Amer/Axios

Prairie Meadows is allocating $4 million to dozens of central Iowa nonprofits this year after relaunching several of its grant programs, according to records obtained by Axios.

Why it matters: The casino's timing is good. More than 76% of Iowa nonprofits took a financial hit linked with the pandemic, according to a University of Northern Iowa survey.

  • Prairie Meadows' allocations are bigger than last year's, but still below prepandemic levels when the group awarded 223 grants, totaling $6 million.

Driving the news: The casino's board last week approved $1.25 million in Community Betterment grants. It also approved $250,000 for 20 youth sports and recreational projects in central Iowa.

  • The announcements come after Prairie Meadows awarded up to $1 million for iconic projects, like the Des Moines Metro Opera, through its Legacy Grants program this summer.

State of play: The casino took a $75 million hit from its pandemic-driven closure for 90 days last year, Julie Stewart, Prairie Meadows' vice president of community relations, told us.

  • The grants they awarded last year focused on community needs, including $1 million to United Way of Central Iowa and $500K each to the Food Bank of Iowa and DMARC Food Pantry.

Of note: Prairie Meadows is organized under Section 501(c)(4) of the tax code, which allows it to avoid federal taxes in exchange for its promotion of social welfare.

  • More than $2 billion in state taxes, grants and charitable donations have been paid by the casino since its 1989 launch.

4. Chart: Meredith and IAC's huge digital pull

Data: SimilarWeb; Chart: Kavya Beheraj/Axios

IAC's acquisition of Meredith Corp., one of Des Moines' most prominent businesses, will create one of the largest food, home and lifestyle media companies in the world, writes Axios' Sara Fischer.

  • The combined company will reach roughly 175 million unique visitors per month, per data from IAC's Dotdash. The company says that 95% of that audience is women.

Be smart: While the companies' brands are complementary, their revenue models are different.

  • Meredith makes most of its revenue from things like subscriptions and licensing partnerships, while Dotdash's mostly comes from ads and e-commerce.

Go deeper: IAC's Dotdash to acquire Meredith's National Media Group for $2.7 billion

5. Things to do this weekend

The Oscar Mayer Weinermobile
You could see this in WDM this weekend! Photo: MediaNews Group/Reading Eagle via Getty Images

🤡 There's plenty of haunted houses open this weekend, but some of your favorites may still be closed this year.

  • Here are some other ways to get out and about:

🍺 Embrace being basic and enjoy Confluence's Basic Batch Pumpkin Ale release, starting at noon today.


🌭 The Oscar Mayer Wienermobile is stopping at the Mills Civic Hy-Vee from 9am to noon.

🌳 Get out of town and head to the Madison County Covered Bridges Festival starting 9am Saturday.


🌱 Celebrate local farmers at the Fried Green Tomatoes Fall Harvest at Franklin Jr. High, starting at 2pm.

🚲 Join RAGBRAI for The Great Iowa Fall Ride. Bike a 37-mile loop and end in Cumming with a show by the Pork Tornadoes. (Registration is $70.)

6. 🧻 1 toilet talker to go

A photo of a bathroom sign.
A sign in a bathroom at Twisted Vine Brewery. Photo courtesy of Lee Buell

Axios reader Lee Buell alerted us to this sign he spotted in a bathroom at the Twisted Vine Brewery in West Des Moines.

See a funny metro sign?

  • 🤳 Take a snap and send it our way.

The Foursome: Jason loved all 30 minutes of this documentary about four friends and their 50th annual golf match in northeast Iowa.

🍻 Cheers to an enjoyable weekend.

  • Tell others about us. They can subscribe, here.