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Iowa History Daily: January 11 - Canteen Lunch in the Alley

Iowa History Daily: On January 11, 1976, word came out the far-famed “Canteen Lunch in the Alley” of Ottumwa wouldn’t undergo demolition. Dating back to 1927, Canteen Lunch has cooked up loose-meat sandwiches and homemade pies for almost 100 years.

In 1936, the business relocated to the current location on 112 2nd St. East in downtown Ottumwa. An outstanding example of an early to mid-20th century lunchroom, The “Canteen Lunch” reflects on this type of eating establishment that gained popularity in the 1920s and 1930s. A loose-meat sandwich resembling a “Maid-Rite” or “Sloppy Joe,” different seasoning and service similar to a hamburger (with condiments like pickles, ketchup and mustard) set apart the ‘canteen’ sandwich. 

The Canteen served as the model for the ‘Lanford Lunch Box’ restaurant opened by Roseanne Conner (played by Roseanne Barr) in the sitcom Roseanne. Barr and husband Tom Arnold, a native of Ottumwa, frequently visited Ottumwa during their marriage and patronized the Canteen Lunch in the Alley.

Civic development and downtown renewal efforts in Ottumwa have threatened the Canteen Lunch on at least two different occasions. During the mid-1970s, officials pitched demolishing the local institution only to reconsider after public outcry. In 2000, the City of Ottumwa pursued construction of a parking ramp in the current location of the Canteen. The owners and patrons alike insisted the local landmark remain in place. Subsequently, in 2004 air rights were purchased above the canteen and a parking ramp was constructed overhead. #IowaOTD #IowaHistoryDaily #IowaHistoryCalendar


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