West Liberty cooks up plan to reopen restaurant

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On a frigid February day, there's something simmering in West Liberty, Iowa.

"Right now, the downtown needs some work," said Shannon McNaul.

McNaul is finding the heart of this city through its stomach. That's why she wants to reopen a restaurant inside a century-old bank building.

"We want people when they come to our community to have a nice place to go," said the We Lead executive director. "We want it to be a destination."

This shuttered eatery will reopen this fall at 100 3rd St. E in West Liberty, but there's a twist. A competition called Iowa's Best Bite Restaurant Challenge will find a new owner.

"We'll be picking them as much as they're picking us," she continued.

Contestants will have until June 16 to apply. Click here for information. It's already proven successful in Oskaloosa and Grinnell.

Those trying out will need to blend creativity along with a business plan. The winner will receive incentives provided by the community that top $100,000.

The perks include free rent for six months and a complete kitchen.

"We had a group of community members come in and clean this," she said.

There's a dining room downstairs and a bar upstairs.

The applicant list will be narrowed down to a final cook-off in the restaurant. Community members can also sign up to be judges.

"I think it's great to bring new life to it because I hate to see old buildings sit empty," said supporter Geri Owens.

It's something to bank on for this historic building.

"It's a perfect location," Owens said.

All of this planning leaves Shannon McNaul with a lot on her plate. But she's excited about the possibilities.

"There's synergy starting, and I like that," she concluded.

A chef search that starts right now in West Liberty.

You can follow the contest on Facebook -- click here.