Located on Highway 44, right next to the Raccoon River Valley Trail in Panora
By Rich Wicks | Panora Times
Around Panora, PJ’s Restaurant was well-known for decades. Although it’s now under different management and sports a new name, the tradition has continued. Owner Nicole Kidney shared the story of how she took over the business and what she has planned for Pedal-In.
Kidney was well aware of the history of PJ’s in Panora.
“I had worked at PJ’s for several years,” she said. “I had left and been gone for two years before it came up for auction. The timing was just right, so I bought it.”
Located on Highway 44, right next to the Raccoon River Valley Trail in Panora, PJ’s was a longtime Panora landmark. Kidney didn’t plan any major changes but simply aimed to make sure the building and equipment were ready to reopen.
“I bought it at the auction in August of 2022,” Kidney said. “The plan initially was to buy it and open up right away. But as I got in here, I figured it needed a little bit of work, so I decided maybe it was best to close for a month or two and start off on the right foot. We ended up opening on Nov. 22 of 2022. It was kind of a blessing in disguise that we didn’t open up right away, because more needed to be done than we initially thought.”
Upgrades were made to the building and equipment. Kidney says she is now in the process of adding more storage space and shelving for the restaurant inventory.
As much as possible, Kidney has tried to keep the restaurant’s offerings unchanged from before she became the owner.
“I didn’t take anything away on the menu,” she said. “I just added a few things because I wanted it to be a smooth transition.”
Asked about any signature items or best-sellers, Kidney said the breaded tenderloin is a favorite entrée, and the soft-serve ice cream is popular, too. She also mentioned the smoked pulled pork, which is homemade, taking eight hours to smoke the meat to perfection. Other entrée menu items include sandwiches, burgers, quesadillas, chicken strips, salads and wraps. Dessert items include cones, malts and sundaes with 17 topping choices.
Kidney explained that PJ’s had a longstanding tradition of offering a fish fry every Friday night, and she’s bringing that back.
“When we opened in November of 2022, we started with a fish fry,” she said. “But then, as summer got closer and we got busier, I didn’t have enough fryer space to designate one fryer just for fish, so I took it away for the summer and early fall. But now that’s back, every Friday night. A lot of people had been asking for it.”
Pedal-In also offers a daily weekday special.
“This time of year we do soups, too,” she said.
Currently, seven employees help Kidney handle the cooking and serving duties, but she needs more help during the busy summer months.
“Last summer, I had 14 people working here at one point. The summertime is nice because I’ve got the nice, covered patio, so there’s a lot more outdoor seating,” said Kidney.
Regarding how she chose the name Pedal-In, Kidney said, “I definitely named it playing off the bike trail that we’re right next to. For sure, the summer is the busy season, not just with the bikes, but with it being a lake town.”
Pedal-In has many bicycle-themed decorations, and Kidney even incorporated the theme into the kids menu, which she named “Training Wheels.”
Looking to the future, Kidney said she strives to listen to what customers want, and she’s eager to make changes as needed. She recognizes that sometimes customers may have kids or pets in the vehicle, and coming into the restaurant for a to-go order isn’t convenient.
“We’re trying to add some type of drive-through,” she said. “That could be something that happens in the next several years.”
Kidney appreciates the way that the community has welcomed her and supported her business.
“When we first opened, we were so busy all the time,” she said. “The feedback about the food and customer service was so positive. For me, that meant a lot.”