Sensing a desire for additional restaurants in the Cedar Rapids-Marion area, Vince and Mary Ellen De Long conceived the idea of an eating establishment with a western theme in 1967.
A Collins Radio engineer by trade, Vince did much of the construction on the original restaurant himself after work and on weekends. His wife’s artistic talents produced caricatures and murals for the old West theme found on the front and throughout the original buildings. Their four sons provided much of the manual labor.
After school and on weekends were spent scraping and painting old wagon wheels, pouring concrete, and laying block. Vince has been known to joke, “The most cost-effective way to construct a building is with child labor”.
The De Long’s had originally intended to lease the building to someone with a background in the food and beverage industry. But they wound up running the restaurant themselves when a lessee backed out of the deal at the last minute. Not having any restaurant experience, the De Long’s hired a manager to operate the restaurant when it opened in 1968.
Soon though the De Long’s learned that the only way for the operation to be successful was to have the family in the business.
Many of the original recipes came from family members, friends, and employees. Business was brisk with guests having to wait on many nights up to three hours for a seat. In 1970 an additional dining room was constructed doubling the original seating for dining.
A large Convention Hall was opened behind the original restaurant in 1974 with seating up to 425. The Convention Hall featured a motorized stage used for dinner theater performances from 1974 until 1978 by the Old Barn Players.
During the 1990s The Longbranch entered into several different events and won many awards (see list below). Unfortunately rising costs to enter such events have prohibited our attendance in recent years.
Growing to Meet Your Needs
In 1978 The Longbranch constructed a four-story, 54-unit motel with a revolving bar on the fourth floor. Four kitchenette suites and three Private Jacuzzi suites were added in 1980. Another four-story hotel addition including a full service health club, indoor heated pool, whirlpool, dry sauna, and a large garden-like Atrium area with billiards, games, and The Goldzone Cafe opened in 1985, this bringing the total hotels available for rent to 106 rooms. With the opening of the new lounge and cafe near the pool the revolving bar was closed and remodeled into larger hotel rooms.
The purchase of the Village Inn Hotel came in 1993.
The hotel and restaurant were completely renovated and renamed: Cooper’s Mill Restaurant and Best Western Cooper’s Mill Hotel. A new indoor-pool and whirl pool was opened in the hotel in 1999. In 2002 the restaurant was completely redecorated, as well as the three meeting rooms. Unfortunately this property was flooded to the second floor in 2008 and was closed in 2016 to make way for the city’s flood wall.
Keeping a High Quality Level
The Longbranch Hotel and Convention Center strives to stay current with on-going renovations. New chandeliers were installed in our Grand Ball Room in 2001 and our dining rooms were updated. The hotel in 2001-2003 has been completely renovated and now features free high-speed Internet access, free full service health club use, and king rooms available. All hotel rooms also feature: 37″ televisions with expanded cable & HBO, hair dryers, iron & large ironing board, voice mail telephone with modem ports, free local calls and free toiletries.
After 40 plus years in business, the De Long family still participates in the day-to-day operations of the hotel. Stop in soon and enjoy a meal or an over night stay with us. We know your visit will be a memorable one!
Chronology of Awards
- 1991 Award for Pork – Iowa State Pork Producers Assoc.
- 1992 Restaurant Award – Linn Co. Pork Producers Assoc.
- 1992 Competitive Employment Employer of the Year – Options of Linn County
- 1993 National Pork Producers Council Award
- 1993 National Pork Restaurant of the Year Finalist
- 1994 Second Place Taste of Elegance – Iowa Pork Producers Assoc.
- 1993 Best BBQ Restaurant (2nd place) Cedar Rapids Gazette Readers Choice
- 2003,2005, 2006, 2007, 2006 – Best Western Director’s Award (for quality)
- 2006, 2007, 2008 – Best Western Award of Excellence
- 2009 – Best Westerns Top 20% (of North Americas 2,800 hotels)
- 2009 – Best Western Chairwomen’s Award (top award for quality)
- 2009 – Best Western Champion Award (public relations)
- 2009 – Best Western International: Chairwomen’s Award “Outstanding Quality Assurance”
- 2010 – Best Western International: Chairwomen’s Award “Outstanding Quality Assurance”
- 2010, 2011, 2012, 2014, 2016 – B.W.I. Director’s Award “In Recognition of Receiving and Excellent Quality Assurance”
- 2014 – Best Western’s Top Award: M.K. Guertin Award
- 2016-2017 Best Western International: Chairman’s Award “Top 5% for Quality Assurance”
Cedar Rapids BBQ Round-up Awards
- 1990 First Place, Best Barbeque Pork
- 1991 First Place, Best Barbeque Pork Ribs
- 1992 First Place, Best Barbeque Pork Ribs
- 1993 First Place, Best Barbeque Pork Ribs