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.


  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!

  4. I have been trying to remember the cafeteria of my childhood and this morning it popped into my head and I found your article! We would go to the Merle Hay Mall and as a child I loved the huge glass windows, the copper heat lamps over the entrees and the carving station at Bishop’s. But the chocolate cream pie with chocolate curls was the gold standard after which all other cream pies were compared. I too remember the balloons after seeing your photo. They also had a small play area for the kids with a rocking horse my sister and I always fought over. Thx for the article, photos, and memories! Pam

    • I was an adult when the Bishop’s at Merle Hay Plaza was built. Yes, it was a plaza at first, with no roof between Younkers and Sears! But we also enjoyed eating there. Mom worked at the downtown cafeteria in 1937 and also during the war, so she enjoyed taking her daughters there and to the downtown Younkers with its iconic Christmas windows. I sure enjoyed your comment, Pam!

  5. My mom worked in downtown and I visited her as often as possible. We ate many .lunches at the Bishops Cafeteria there. A few years later, in 1959, Merle Hay Mall opened. We lived right across Douglas. My dad and I ate many dinners at the Merle Hay Bishops during the years I was going to Drake University. The last time I ate there was about 1990, it had certainly changed. What memories we had about that place.

  6. Thank you for writing a great post! We were raised eating at Bishop’s both downtown and Merle Hay. The mall had a bakery store too. I’ve never found a comparable bullet roll or curly pie. The last time I ate a piece of pie, the recipe had been changed. It was chocolate ambrosia pie and I also can’t find a recipe. Bishop’s was cafeteria fine dining. The roast beef was incredible.

    • Thanks for your note! Bullet roll, huh? Was that the hard roll? My dad always chose that, so I did too! In Darcy Maulsby’s book “Classic Restaurants of Des Moines and Their Recipes,” page 122, there’s a recipe for Bishop’s Chocolate Ambrosia Pie. It includes two flavors of pudding mixes, ice cream, and frozen whipped topping, so isn’t the original recipe, but it might fulfil some cravings. Yes, it’s got chocolate curls on top!

  7. I worked at Bishops in Mere Hay Mall during high school and college from 1978 to 1986. I worked a lot of it behind that beautiful pie counter. Probably one of the best jobs you could ask for as a kid/teen

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