MUSCATINE, Iowa–Growing up in a large family in New Jersey, Duane “Big Cat” Williams saw from an early age how food could bring people together. “I enjoy the expression on others’ faces when they are eating something I have prepared for them–I enjoying giving to others,” he shared.
Though Williams has always found time to cook for the important people in his life and has raised fresh produce to share and donate for years, he only recently began looking into opening a restaurant of his own. Williams first came to Iowa as a college student, studying sociology at Wartburg College in Waverly and playing for their football team. While there, he met his future wife, Christy Roby. After graduating, the couple moved to Muscatine County where they married in 1999 and had two daughters.
For more than 20 years, Williams worked as a corrections officer. He started out as a juvenile liaison officer for Louisa-Muscatine Community School District and later as probation and parole officer for the 7th Judicial District. He found the work fulfilling and strove to make his community better through everything he did. ” I enjoyed the work, the individuals I worked with to achieve their fullest potential while serving to protect our community,” he explained. As time went on though, he realized the time had come for him to pursue a new dream of his. “My personal belief system no longer aligned with the direction the state was moving, so I decided to move forward by pursuing my lifetime dream of running a café,” he said.
When Elly’s Tea and Coffee closed, leaving a space vacant in the old Hotel Muscatine, Williams saw it as an opportunity to open an eatery of his own with the help of his wife, adult daughters, and Mollie Piatetsky. He chose the name, Big Cat’s Café, from his own nickname, Big Cat, which his friend Tom Wilson gave him while he coached Louisa-Muscatine football and which stuck when he began coaching at Muscatine High School.
Big Cat’s Café will serve a variety of breakfast pastries as well as sandwiches and hot beverages. Williams also plans to offer special Pie Sundays as an occasional weekend treat. Over time, Williams hopes to introduce more and more original dishes he and his family develop.
As the Williamses prepare Big Cat’s Café to open to the public, Williams cannot wait to start welcoming the community in and showing them a good time: “Big Cats Cafe is a family affair and will operate off of the vision of being a place that is welcoming, inclusive, and everyone leaves with the experience that they are part of the family. We hope that individuals are impressed by the quality of food and beverages and want to come back not only for their favorites on the menu but also the experience of being the place where friends become family.”
Currently, Willams posts updates about progress at the café on their Facebook page.