You won’t find the cinnamon roll pancakes on the menu at the QC Coffee and Pancake House, but they’re probably the reason you’re here. And when the stack arrives at your table, it’ll be hard to look away.
Jose and Sarah Zepeda, who co-own the Rock Island diner, see those sugar-induced-coma stares a lot — maybe once a day. With four cakes doused in icing and topped with cinnamon sticks, these pancakes also beg for to-go boxes.
“We get a lot of people who come in asking about them, and saying they heard they had to try them,” Jose Zepeda, the head chef, said. “I believe that people eat with their eyes first, it has to look good for them to love it.”
The cinnamon roll pancakes started as a one-weekend special, but customers kept ordering them days and months later. And Zepeda couldn’t tell them no.
“I always think outside the box with presentation,” he said. “People come here for comfort food, for something simple, but I like to have creativity, and add something unique to that.”
The restaurant, which opened in July 2013, has the making of a typical diner: the comfy booths, historic photos of downtown Rock Island, an always-full fridge of pies and cakes, plus a proud biscuits and gravy recipe on display.
But they hope to surprise customers who expect the traditional diner food.
“If you google pancake house, we’re going to turn up,” he said. “But I like to think we go beyond that.”
The husband-wife duo open the doors at 6 a.m. each day, with pots of strong coffee for the early-risers who sit at the bar and watch the news. They get a steady stream of families, plus college students from Augustana College craving a home-cooked meal.
Their two kids help with the cash register on busy weekend mornings, when the wait for a table could be an hour, and they do homework at a booth in the back when the rush dies down.
“With this type of restaurant, customers become an extension of your family,” Sarah Zepeda said. “Sometimes, it's people that this is their one outing of the day and they come for a smile and a sense of connection.”
From the brunch burger (a patty topped with bacon, hash browns and an egg) to the chicken coop special, Zepeda aims for an out-of-the-box style in the kitchen. He loves incorporating eggs into meals: burgers, smoked salmon sandwiches, with steak and biscuits.
“I love breakfast, it’s my favorite thing to do, I love combining everything that you wouldn’t think of,” he said.
Jose and Sarah Zepeda met in the restaurant business; so when they got married in 1997, they had an idea this would be their lifestyle. Before opening the pancake house, they co-owned the Windmill Family Restaurant in East Moline.
“We weren’t this busy to start with, it grew little by little,” Sarah Zepeda, who manages about everything but the food, said. “We take every piece of this seriously, we put out a good product, we make it a family place and that stays with people.”
In the meantime, Jose Zepeda keeps experimenting. Sometimes his favorite recipes are accidents and others he wakes up in the middle of the night with a new breakfast plate idea to try.
“We want to wow you and make you feel welcome, from the person at the front to the person taking your money,” he said. “We don’t feel like we need to do much more, because if that guy leaves happy, he’s going to tell his friends.”