Washington Evening Journal
111 North Marion Avenue
Washington, IA 52353
It’s official. The former Winga’s Restaurant will become a restaurant again.
Ed and Isabella Santoro purchased the building several months ago with the intention of opening a restaurant.
But once they surveyed the condition of the first floor of the building, which has sustained significant water damage after being vacant for 16 years and after calculating the cost to bring all systems up to current code, they backed off the idea for a while.
But they were encouraged by community members to open a restaurant, and so they applied for a Main Street Iowa matching grant that, if received, would enable them to move forward.
On Oct. 20 they received word that they got the $100,000 grant.
They chose the name Northside Diner because the restaurant was the Northside Café when John Winga Sr. purchased it.
Isabella was born in Cattolica Italy and moved to Washington during her high school years.
She is a graduate of the University of Iowa. She pursued a career in international relations on the east coast, but she realized after a couple of years that it wasn’t her calling and returned to Iowa to join her family business.
She says she got the entrepreneurial bug from watching her mother, Washington native Lorraine Williams, launch the famous Café Dodici where Isabella and Ed both work.
Ed was born in Rockford, Illinois, and graduated from high school in Washington and then attended the University of Iowa.
Following a career in construction, he met Isabella and started working at Dodicis in 2016. The couple also manages several rental properties.
For years Ed and Isabella dreamed of going out on their own and doing something themselves.
Several years ago, they talked to a bank about buying the abandoned Winga’s building, but they couldn’t swing it at that time.
Like Williams, they believed in revitalizing the town square. Once the Winga family knew Ed and Isabella were interested in purchasing the building, things started to happen, leading to a successful purchase agreement.
When the couple walked into the restaurant level of the building for the first time, Isabella said it a-was like a blast from the past. Everything the couple remembered from the restaurant was frozen in time.
The first thing they did was to update the second floor apartment. The floors were sanded, walls were painted, new lighting was installed, and a new renter was found all within a couple of months.
Then came the process of seeking the Main Street Iowa grant.
“We’ve been humbled by how supportive the people of Washington have been,” Isabella said. “I don’t know how to say this humbly, but they seem to think this restaurant will be in good hands.”
The Main Street Iowa Challenge Grant was awarded to 13 Main Street communities in Iowa in 2021, according to Main Street Washington Executive Director Sarah Grunewaldt.
In the past, the grants have been for $75,000 on a matching basis. This year, the amount of the grant was increased to $100,000 on a matching basis.
In the past, four Washington businesses have received the grant including Café Dodici, Frontier Family Restaurant, the Lofts Apartments building on the square and the Triune Building on South Marion.
“Competition for the grant is highly competitive,” Grunewaldt said.
Judges look at factors such as historic preservation, investing in property to create a new business and activation of an underutilized space, she said.
“The next step is to completely renovate the first floor of the building from top to bottom,” Ed said.
The soda fountain will return, and the diner will be open for breakfast and lunch with a menu “with something for everyone” Ed said.
“We would love to try to bring back the selection of pies that was once offered at Winga’s,” Isabella added.
There is no firm opening date but due to supply chain challenges and the fact that Ed will be doing the lion’s share of the restoration work, early spring of 2023 is when the couple estimates they will be ready to welcome customers.