SIOUX CITY | Southern Hills Mall opened in 1980, and over the years the food businesses in the cafe court have greatly transformed.

The makeover has left scant few of the original food businesses more than three decades later.  Among those from the beginning that are still serving are Orange Julius and Dairy Queen.

More recently, a big change has been less chain fast food restaurants and more ethnic, locally-owned options in the food court of the mall, which is southwest of Lakeport Street and Sergeant Road.

Southern Hills Mall General Manager Matt Pawlowski said some of the longstanding businesses in the court include Orange Julius, Dairy Queen and Chick-Fil-A.

"People have their favorites. You can see that with the lines at Chick-Fil-A and Taco Johns," Pawlowski said.

Deanna Reintzel, of Hinton, Iowa, in the 1990s began working at a mall store and ate at the court many days for more than 20 years. She recalled longtime staples, such as Sbarro pizza and Burger King, that are now gone.

"They've had places come and go," Reintzel said.

Reintzel said the trend toward more ethnic places with mom-and-pop ownership is fine, "as long as they can make a go of it."

Pat Dinklage, of Orchard, Nebrska, puts a premium on longevity of food court options, so she likes the predictable nature of places she favors. She has come to the mall for decades, about three times per year.

Pat Dinklage visited the food court in late December with husband Jim Dinklage. Pat Dinklage knew where she planned to eat, her typical spot of Arby's. But it had closed, so she had to veer to Dairy Queen to get a tavern.

"I always went for Arby's," Pat Dinklage said.

Jim Dinklage said he typically has preferred Chinese food from the mall. But he has recently been introduced to gyros sandwiches, which has lamb meat. So Jim Dinklage was pleased to have a sandwich from Sam's Gyros at the mall.

Pawlowski said the Mexican food fare runs from the Tex Mex of the national chain Taco Johns to La Solsita, which expanded to the mall in 2016 from the original location in South Sioux City. La Solsita is in the former spot of Arby's.

Pawlowski said that in addition to more locally-owned food spots, a substantial change has been "to healthier choices these days." Mall officials like the existing mix of food businesses, but are always looking to fill needs with new options.

"A good burger place would be fantastic," Pawlowski said. "We are missing some kind of chocolatier or confectioner."

Reintzel said she would like to see a Runza return to the mall, while her daughter voiced the need for a McDonalds.

Pawlowski added that the national trend for enclosed malls is that they "are more entertainment-focused," where people will go to a mall movie theater and food court first, then perhaps venture off for shopping. He said patrons at the mall typically want a meal that is served fast, so they can pursue shopping.

Pawlowski said sales totals can't be publicly shared but said the trend has been positive for the two years he's been affiliated with the mall.

He said the busiest time for the food court varies, with lunch being the heaviest period during the late-year holiday season and with the early evening during the other 10 months of the year.

"Weekend are always fabulous, both lunch and dinner," Pawlowski said.

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County & Education Reporter

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