Tasting Rural Life

For award-winning chef Joel Mahr, there is nothing better than seeing customers savor a bite of one of his dishes.

“When you see them close their eyes, give a nod, and smile – you know you’ve got them,” said Mahr. “Whether it’s a memory they are having, or the flavors that are exciting to them, it’s a great feeling to see them living in that moment.”

Joel Mahr

Mahr, who was previously head chef at a restaurant in his hometown of Omaha, Nebraska, now creates these memories in Corning, Iowa. His restaurant Primrose, its name an ode to rural life and taken from the Jim Harrison poem “I Believe,” has developed a reputation for quality farm-to-plate dining. In fact, one of his customers said Primrose was “hands-down the best small-town restaurant I’ve ever had the pleasure of eating at.”

Ask Mahr why he chose Corning over big city living and he says his answer never sways. “I feel like they picked us, we really didn’t pick them,” said Mahr. “It was like a puzzle piece that just fell into place and worked out really well.”

Mahr was familiar with the area and the qualities Iowa offers, as his wife Jill grew up on a farm in nearby Nodaway. However, after spending a few years selling produce with Jill and her parents at the local farmer’s market, Mahr came to believe Corning was where he was meant to be.

“The more I was there (Corning), the more I fell in love with the town,” said Mahr. “It has something that everyone strives for — peace and quiet, but not too far away. We’re in a perfect little hub here in southwest Iowa — an hour and a half from Omaha and Des Moines, and a little over two hours from Kansas City.”

In addition to quality food, Mahr and Primrose have brought a new sense of pride to the local community, one that has been supportive since the day his restaurant opened.

“I think one of the really cool things now is that when folk have their relations come back to visit, they are proud as hell to show them what we’ve got,” said Mahr. “For them to suggest eating here, have it blow their minds and respond by saying, ‘You have this in your town?’ – that makes it all worth it.”

And for Mahr, the feeling is mutual. “I wanted a better life for my wife and me and found it here in Corning,” said Mahr. “We are just making our little mark in the world and having fun doing it.”

Published June 18, 2019

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