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'It's time': John Mortimer retires from Cattlemen's Beef Quarters after 38 years

After four decades of serving up steaks, burgers and more at the Iowa State Fair, Mortimer is stepping down.

DES MOINES, Iowa — Local 5 and CW Iowa 23 are bringing exciting 2022 Iowa State Fair experiences to you, from live newscasts to an interactive Local 5 Weather Lab experience. Come see us in front of the Administration Building (Grand Concourse) each day between 9 a.m. and 8 p.m.

Nearly four decades ago, Cattlemen's Beef Quarters first started serving up steaks, burgers and everything bovine at the Iowa State Fair.

"1985, when we started it. Here from day one to day whatever this is," said John Mortimer, the general manager and longtime leader of the restaurant.

Mortimer has watched Cattlemen's Beef Quarters from the ground up — much like returning fairgoers. 

"We were on gravel in a tent. Very rudimentary. Equipment was just some stuff that we kind of cobbled together and had some counties come in and do some drilling for us," he said. "And we got by but we didn't serve more than a day now and we started the whole year back then so."

According to the restaurant's website, the mission of the Cattlemen's Beef Quarters is "enabling Iowa beef producers the opportunity to showcase their product at the Iowa State Fair."

And showcase they do. 

"Beef in Iowa is huge. And it's we're here to help promote it. And if we're not here, I don't know who would promote beef any better than we're doing it so we're, that's our job," Mortimer said. 

Over the years, Mortimer and the menu have grown together. 

"Oh, we've added a lot, taken away a lot. You know, we had kabobs the first year and sirloin steaks, and we don't have any of those now, we've upgraded and we think, 'Oh, we know we have got prime rib.' One of the best prime ribs you're ever going to eat is gonna be right here. I guarantee it," he said. 

RELATED: Massive baked potato 'The Finisher' crowned People's Choice Best New Food at the 2022 Iowa State Fair

So what's kept Mortimer coming back to the fair and to the restaurant year after year? The answer is simple: community. 

"The thing I keep coming back for is the people, you know, you just get to know people and they all become friends for a day, a year," ___ said. "And a lot of them and that's just the fun part of it. And people more people probably know me than I know them." 

But, after 38 years of fair food and good times, he decided its time to hang up his apron. 

John loves Iowa State University and Iowa State Athletics about as much as he loves the Beef Quarters!

Posted by Cattlemen's Beef Quarters on Wednesday, August 17, 2022

"Best manager we ever had here. He's the only one we've had 'til the new one," said Greg Bailey, a Union County cattleman. 

A fellow worker said he was sad to see Mortimer go. 

"Wish he was staying on but it's sometimes it's time just to call her quits. And he's — this place is all about him," Gary Goldsmith, an Adams County cattleman added.

As the Iowa State Fair nears its final weekend of 2022, Mortimer is saying goodbye to longtime friends and a lifetime of food. 

"Well, I wasn't looking forward to it. It's here and I can't keep going. I know that. My mind says 'You keep going and going and going,' [but] my body says 'Yeah, don't do that to us,'" Mortimer said. "So it's it's time. And it was nothing when we started and now it's something."

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