Bishop’s Cafeteria in Des Moines

When my mother, Doris Wilson, enrolled in American Institute of Business (AIB) in 1937, playing basketball paid for her tuition. She waitressed at the downtown Des Moines Bishop’s Cafeteria for her two meals a day, walking from her apartment to both the school at 10th and Grand and the cafeteria.
She also worked there for a time during WWII, until she got married in 1943 and became Doris Neal. Doris’s daughters, Joy and Gloria, grew up on a farm near Dexter. Mom loved it when Dad drove us to Des Moines for shopping. We always ate at Bishop’s Cafeteria, where Mom would tell us stories, a couple of which Darcy Dougherty Maulsby has shared in her book, Classic Restaurants of Des Moines and Their Recipes.
Benjamin Franklin Bishop, born in1873, grew up in Iowa. He married, worked in hotels, and settled in Waterloo in 1920, where he started his chain of cafeterias.
Mr. Bishop died in 1928 at the age of 55, but eventually there were Bishop’s Buffets in 35 Midwestern locations.
A waitress always carried your tray to your table. Each child’s tray was embellished by a balloon, held up with cardboard feet. Sis Gloria, who was small for her age well into high school, was mortified when they’d give her a balloon when she though she was too old for one.
Similar to the cardboard feet that held a balloon for a child’s tray.
Dad almost always chose fried fish and a hard roll.
Gloria, every single time, snapped up a slice of chocolate pie with the chocolate curls on top.
The last of the Bishop’s closed in 2012, but so many of us are still nostalgic about those iconic buffets.

14 comments

  1. I love this story Joy!! I’ve written about Bishop’s Cafeteria before. Mom and I stopped there to eat every time we shopped in Sioux City (60 miles away). I never passed up an opportunity to have chocolate pie (French Silk?).

  2. Joy, this is such a great nostalgic piece….and makes me hungry for so many of Bishop’s great dishes and pies. And the coffee tasted special. Loved your Mom’s connection with Bishops.

  3. I remember going to Bishop’s at Merle Hay Mall. I always had the chocolate pie with curls. I had, what was suppose to be the Bishop’s Chocolate Pie recipe, and made it a number of times. I think Jay’s mother gave me the recipe. I don’t think I have it any more. I’ll have to look. No clue what I ate, other than the chocolate pie!

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