After years in New York City, Cyndi Gryte returns to Iowa to open the Juniper & Olive bistro in Jewell
A new bistro in Jewell offers small plates, paninis and hand-crafted cocktails with a focus on locally sourced foods. The proprietor honed her craft, in part, at the famous Coyote Ugly in the Big Apple. But the vibe at Juniper & Olive is vintage, eclectic sophistication in comparison to the rowdy saloon that spurred a movie in 2000.
After years in New York City, Cyndi Gryte has returned to her home state of Iowa, where she graduated from Nevada High School and Iowa State University.
She’s opened a bistro and soon-to-be mercantile in downtown Jewell. In a historic building on the town’s Lot No. 1 dating back to 1881, Gryte’s Juniper & Olive Co. had a soft opening in late September during the Central Iowa Junk Jaunt. She’s eased slowly into opening, partly due to supply chain issues that delayed construction.
Juniper & Olive has a small but flavorful menu
“We update the menu, but our current menu has ricotta drizzled with local honey. The chicken salad tartine — everyone has been raving about that one,” Gryte said. “I love yummy flavors, so even the portabella spinach panini has a delicious garlic aioli in it — just a little pop of flavor in every bite.
“We might not have a big menu, but hopefully what we’re serving delights you a little.”
The menu also offers cheese boards — “some cheeses and meats offered in a snacky style,” she said.
Gryte’s business logo is a mermaid, an icon that’s threaded its way through her personal history.
“While working and traveling for Coyote Ugly in NYC, I became friends with and created an extraordinary bond with a group of incredible women and we call ourselves and are known as the Mermaids,” she said. ”The theme shows up in the form of a group of friends that call themselves Sirens in my book ‘Heavy on the Vodka and a Little Bit Dirty!’”
Cocktails are one of Gryte’s specialties. Her menu ranges from martinis, bloody marys (she has a secret recipe) and mimosas to drinks with names like Giggle Water and Hooch. The bistro’s name is a nod to the martini, one of Gryte’s favorite cocktails.
“The name Juniper & Olive Co. is a story of serendipity,” Gryte said.
The primary ingredient of gin is juniper, as the spirit is made by distilling neutral grain alcohol with juniper berries, she said.
“Add an olive, and you're sipping a martini,” Gryte said. “It's no secret that I love martinis. But here's where it gets good: We rescued two abandoned dogs from the shelter, and after a bit of training, the cuties happily provide emotional support and comfort to my mom. Could you believe that they already had names? One happened to be Juniper and the other Olive! They were meant to be with us. Within a month, I started the first sparkling ideas for Juniper & Olive Co.”
The Mermaid is at home in the historic Jewell building
Gryte has a cocktail blog titled “Mermaid with a Martini.”
“So it only felt right to have a fabulous mermaid in the logo,” she said. “And her style evokes the 1920s — not only for my love of over-the-top style and vintage glasses but because the building used to be home to a speakeasy!”
Yes, really. The building at 632 Main St. in Jewell used to be a speakeasy. Cyndi and Josh, her significant other, live above the bistro, and the wall where people would give the secret password to get into the speakeasy is still there.
Like Gryte herself, her building has had a fabulous past. At various times throughout its history, it's been a bank, a newspaper office and a ballroom — things that encompass several of her passions, she said.
The historic building was brought up to date with help from friends and family.
“Chad Andersen, a childhood neighbor and classmate, built the bar with antique doors and the plumber’s pipe shelving. His wife, Tara, was such a help during the build, too,” Gryte said.
A team of teachers who had a painting business during the summer was about to retire from painting when Gryte asked them to include her in their schedule.
“Mr. Toot, Mr. Martin, Mr. Parker and Mr. Chisholm were all incredible teachers and coaches of mine,” Gryte said. “And it’s just amazing that they were able to paint the interior of my bistro.”
Kari Toot, another friend from her K-12 days, and her mom, Pam, helped Gryte in the very beginning with cleaning and organizing. They even jumped behind the bar to wash dishes for the soft opening, she said.
“I’m so lucky to have such wonderful and talented friends and community,” Gryte said.
Connect with the team at Juniper & Olive Co.
Physical address: 632 Main St., Jewell