Already a subscriber? Log in
- Unparalleled business coverage of the Iowa City / Cedar Rapids corridor.
- Immediate access to subscriber-only content on our website.
- 52 issues per year delivered digitally, in print or both.
- Support locally owned and operated journalism.
After a 40-year run of operating their namesake restaurant/bar, Cliff and Jan Tappa are hanging up their aprons and getting ready for retirement. Tappa’s Steakhouse, still known among regulars and old-timers by its original Sports Page name, is officially for sale. Seated together in a booth in their west-end Davenport establishment, the Eldridge couple recently sat down with the QCBJ to discuss retirement, and – almost in unison – said “It’s time.” Located at 1620 Rockingham Road – in the heart of what early Davenport residents knew as the town of Rockingham – the restaurant has quietly been on the market for months. But recently the Tappas officially listed it for sale with NAI Ruhl & Ruhl Commercial Co. “Ultimately, (my dream) is the new owner keeps it as is and the name the same,” Mr. Tappa said, adding there is value for a new owner to retain the solid reputation and goodwill the business has built. “I’ll show anybody how to run it,” said Mr. Tappa, who has filled all the roles from business manager to head chef and just plain co-worker. To his crew of loyal and longtime staff, including Cindy Bennett (who started there at 19 and has 39 years with Tappas) and Liz Brix (a 14-year veteran and their social media guru) – and the newly hired cook Josh Kosko, Mr. Tappa likes to say “We’re all employees. They work with us, not for us.” “To this day, I never forgot what it’s like to be an employee,” he said, adding that if he doesn’t have others doing dishes, tending bar, waiting tables, or in the kitchen “then I can’t do what I do.” Unfortunately, this year Mr. Tappa was sidelined for months by wound issues but continued to work the business everyday from home – doing the books, ordering and other management duties. However, after 56 years in the restaurant business – that began in his teens at Mr. Steak in Davenport, the 74-year-old Mr. Tappa says it is time to enjoy life. “I’ve taken three vacations in 40 years – that’s asinine.” Mrs. Tappa, now 70, also believes the time has come to leave the long days behind. “We’re selling everything, the name, the equipment, the building” and even the employees could stay, she said. The couple’s retirement comes on the heels of a milestone year. They celebrated their restaurant’s 40th anniversary with a big party on Feb. 8, receiving visitors and well wishes from customers all around the country. “You don’t know how many lives you’ve touched until they tell you,” Mr. Tappa reminisced. “We had people come in and email us thanking us for what we did for them.” Visitors and notes arrived from places such as California, Florida, Colorado, Texas and even a phone call from one old friend in Mexico. This year Tappa’s Steakhouse also saw the completion of nearly $86,000 in building renovations and upgrades thanks, in large part, to the City of Davenport’s Commercial DREAM Project. After first applying for the program in 2019, the project and funding got sidelined by COVID-19. Then in 2021, city officials asked Tappas to re-apply and the grant was approved early this year. Work was completed late spring to mid summer. A new owner stands to reap the benefits of the extensive renovation made possible by the city’s $78,000 grant and the Tappas’ $8,000 investment. Upgrades included: exterior siding, insulation, roof replacement, gutters, window frames, doors, locks and lighting. The couple also invested in new electrical work and the parking lot. The future sale, which the Tappas hope will occur before they decide to close permanently, will be a new chapter to a story that actually began in tragedy. In 1980, Cliff’s older brother Gene Tappa opened the Sports Page after convincing his family of his plans “to open a sports bar for his buddies at Ralston (Purina),” Cliff Tappa said. Although he and Jan were living in Phoenix at the time, he had supported his brother’s decision. Gene Tappa, who had been a Golden Gloves boxer, opened his bar that year and regularly cashed his buddies’ paychecks – a fact known to many. Then on Nov. 19, 1981, the bar owner was shot and killed in his car by a robber who knew he carried the cash. “They found him dead in his car with a 38 (caliber bullet) into his ribs,” Mr. Tappa recalled. “We came back for the funeral. I’d never seen the place (Sports Page) even though I helped him get it. We came in, and then we went back to Phoenix,” he said. A month later his oldest brother Jim Tappa came to Phoenix to see his beloved Iowa Hawkeyes in the Rose Bowl. “I asked Jim what’s going to happen to the Sports Page… he said January 15 we’re going to throw it to the wolves.’” And out of that family tragedy and loss the Tappas returned home to the Quad Cities to own and run the Sports Page in February 1982. “It wasn’t easy, when I first got here. I hated everybody and I was angry (because of Gene’s death). I didn’t like the drunks. I was a businessman, Gene was not,” he added, remembering how he’d thrown out some 200 unruly customers in the first couple years. His efforts went far in taking away the stigma that his brother’s murder left on the bar and neighborhood. But Mr. Tappa said he would be remiss if he did not mention the late Joe Cottingham, an executive with Oscar Mayer, who helped change the course of the business. In fact, the padded seat of what had been Joe’s bar stool hangs from the ceiling above his spot at the end of the bar. “Joe is the one who brought the white collar people from Oscar Mayer (then located blocks away) in here for their safety meetings,” Mr. Tappa said. “He filled this place on a Friday night. We served beer and appetizers and he passed the hat (collecting) $750 for us. I was blown away.” “We had a bad reputation – people thought ‘should we go in there? We might get shot,’” he said of the early-on image. “Joe introduced this place to the world,” he said of his friend, who he fondly recalls buying a six-pack of Old Style tallboys regularly to take home. It was such a tradition that his widow Nancy Cottingham gladly accepted Cliff’s request to slip a six-pack into his coffin at the funeral. “There have been ups and downs, but we have been blessed,” Mr. Tappa said. “For us, they’ve been minor bumps in the road.” The couple are proud of the business they built – and the fact that it is a popular, safe place for the surrounding blue-collar neighborhood, the nearby plant workers, downtown professional workers and area doctors and lawyers alike who frequent it for steaks, burgers and the family atmosphere. “This is not a restaurant – it’s a destination like Cheers,” Mr. Tappa said. “Jan is the hostess, the gatekeeper and hugs all the people.” When pushed to say an actual retirement or closing date, Mr. Tappa said “It’s up to our Lord. He’s in control.” But when asked what they will miss most, again in unison, the couple said “The people.” “The customers, that’s our family,” Ms. Tappa said.