Harper’s Public House Sees Electric First Weeks

Jenna Scott stands behind the bar of her newly opened restaurant/bar Harper’s Public House located in downtown Dysart at 325 Main Street in the former Youngblut Ag office building. Since the kitchen’s official opening on July 22, business has been so robust Scott has run out of food countless times and found herself working up to 14-hour days. Photo by Ruby F. Bodeker.

Dysart’s newest eating establishment Harper’s Public House fully opened its doors in late July and the response has been nothing short of electric.

“It’s been very good!” owner Jenna Scott said of the reception her downtown Dysart restaurant/bar has received since beginning bar service on June 10 and food service on July 22.

On a recent Friday — barely a week after opening the kitchen — both the bar and every table at Harper’s was packed. Getting through the front door required a good deal of elbow work. Scott herself was constantly in motion as she took orders, served drinks, and somehow chatted with practically everyone.

At one point — above the raucous din of people enjoying themselves — something fell off the wall behind the bar, to which Scott called out, “That’s my liquor license that just jumped off the wall. The universe is telling me some stuff right now. I’m not listening!”

If the universe is indeed telling Scott something it might be that she has successfully nailed down the recipe for a traditional ‘public house’ — a place where the everyday person can relax among their community and enjoy a drink.

On a recent Friday night in late July, patrons occupy practically every available dining space in downtown Dysart’s newest restaurant Harper’s Public House. Photo Ruby F. Bodeker.

As Scott and her son Caleb Scott hurried around in the front of the house that Friday evening — chef Ryan Schellhorn working as quickly as possible to fulfill a barrage of traditional bar food orders in the back of the house — patrons could be overheard decompressing after a long week of work.

“I put in one hundred hours at the hospital the last two weeks,” a patron, dressed in scrubs, said as she sat down at the bar to order a drink, those around her shaking their heads.

Harper’s Public House was designed for the public, Scott said, a place to feel at home.

“My husband and I have both worked in the service industry practically our entire lives. … We knew we wanted to fulfill a need here in Dysart.”

Together with their friend Schellhorn — who long dreamed of running his own restaurant — the idea for Harper’s materialized.

Photo by Ruby F. Bodeker.

The Scotts spent more than a year looking for a building to purchase.

“We looked at a couple of other businesses in town that have been for sale, but it was like ‘Goldilocks and the Three Bears’ — one was too small, one was too big, this building was just right!”

After purchasing the building in March, Scott got right to work.

It took months of renovations, she said, including building a new commercial kitchen from scratch in what used to be an old garage on the backside of the building.

The restaurant/bar’s color scheme is gray and white with pops of red — Union Community School District colors, Scott said. And there are plenty of ‘H’s hung on the walls.

Harper's Public House owner Jenna Scott (left) takes orders from behind the bar on a recent Friday night alongside her son Caleb Scott (background, right). Photo by Ruby F. Bodeker.

“I’m always collecting Hs.”

Scott then pointed to a small display on the south wall detailing ‘Harper’s Story.’

A placard reads: “Historically, the name ‘Harper’ is of Scottish, Irish, and English roots. In medieval times, a harper was one of the most important figures in social settings, skillfully entertaining groups with their talent for playing the stringed instrument.”

A list of the many Scott family members who bear the name Harper follows the description.

Chef Schellhorn certainly has a talent for selling out of food. Since opening, Scott has repeatedly run out of sandwiches and other menu items due to demand.

Jenna Scott enjoys a rare moment of calm in her newly opened restaurant/bar Harper's Public House in downtown Dysart. Photo by Ruby F. Bodeker.

“There could be worse problems,” Scott said with a laugh. “Our food truck comes on Thursdays … It’s just a learning curve and we have no history to go off. We’re just guessing. We would rather not throw anything away. A lot of our stuff comes fresh. Our beef is fresh, not frozen. … Our tenderloins and chicken sandwiches, onion rings and portabella mushrooms are breaded to order. We don’t do anything until the order comes through.”

Scott said she wants to stay consistent with her menu and that might mean she can only serve appetizers for a few days before her food truck arrives again.

“You’re going to get the same burger, same bun, same everything [when you order from Harper’s Public House]. I can’t get the same everything from the store.”

The sandwich portion of the menu features a brioche bun which isn’t something most small town grocery and convenience stores stock, Scott said.

“We really want to stay consistent. I want you to know every time you come here you’re going to get the same sandwich.”

Scott said despite the immense response the restaurant/bar has received since opening, there are calmer times for those who might desire a less electric atmosphere.

“We have slower times. Sunday is a bit slower in the afternoon, from 3 to 5 [p.m.].”

But for now, it seems, Scott will be keeping the public in ‘public house’ no matter how many times she runs out of buns or bacon jelly or bottles of a certain beer as she works out all the kinks involved in starting a new business.

It was well past 8 p.m. on that recent Friday when Scott proclaimed, “We have seven buns left. So we have seven sandwiches left.”

To which a customer standing in back of the fully occupied bar said, “We better hurry and get sandwiches then, huh?”

Harper’s Public House is open at 325 Main Street, Dysart, Iowa. They can be found on Facebook at Harper’s Public House-Dysart or reached by phone at 319-476-5000.