Entrepreneurs Carve Their Niche Downtown
In October of 2009, Renae Grogan-Hulsebus wanted to raise extra money for the upcoming holidays. The stay-at-home mom and daycare provider enjoyed baking and decided to try selling some of her favorite homemade desserts. The plan was so successful that the Fort Dodge Cheesecake Lady expanded from her home kitchen to a full-fledged business in downtown Fort Dodge.
"This is, by far, one of the best things I've done in my life," said Grogan-Hulsebus, 35, who runs her bakery at 518 Central Avenue. "I love it downtown, thanks to our historic building, the customers we see every day and the neighbors we've met at other downtown businesses."
Renae Grogan-Hulsebus - The Fort Dodge Cheesecake Lady
While Grogan-Hulsebus offers cheesecakes in an array of flavors and sizes, along with cookies, brownies and other desserts, top sellers include 3-inch cheesecakes. "Our typical customer is looking for something small to enjoy with lunch or later in the day," said Grogan-Hulsebus, who serves soups and sandwiches for lunch. "We also see a lot of downtown businesspeople who come in and buy treats for the office."
A Midwest native, Grogan-Hulsebus began honing her culinary skills when she spent her summers with her great-grandmother in Pierre and Mitchell, S.D. "When I was eight years old, she sat me down at the kitchen table and began to teach me everything she knew about baking," said Grogan-Hulsebus, who has lived in Fort Dodge since 2002. "I'm glad to bring my family's baking heritage to the Fort Dodge community."
The Fort Dodge Cheesecake Lady business is a family affair. Grogan-Hulsebus's husband, Chris, became more involved in the operation when his wife began selling at The Market on Central in 2010. "The Market has brought us customers from all across Iowa and from Minnesota," Grogan-Hulsebus said. "By the time we finished our third year with The Market, it was clear we'd have to move into a storefront and hire help if we were to keep up with the orders."
When the couple purchased their shop on Central Avenue earlier this year, Chris handled most of the remodeling and now spends every day in the kitchen to assist with the baking. The couple's five children also help out. Caleb, 16, enjoys making brownies and cookie bars, while Cara, 14, likes to bake cookies and pies and wants to be the next Cheesecake Lady. Caitlin, 13, helps with cakes and cupcakes and runs the cash register, where she enjoys visiting with customers. Caron, 8, and Chrissa, 7, are the taste testers and also help clean up.
For the 2013 holiday season, Grogan-Hulsebus has hired two part-time bakers and is excited to grow her business downtown. "I love what I do and love where I do it. This bakery is for the whole community, and I'm grateful to all the wonderful people who've helped me get here."
Smurlz adds style downtown
Further east on Central Avenue, another budding entrepreneur is setting her sights on downtown Fort Dodge. As she prepares to open Smurlz at 1012 Central Ave., Heidi Winter is looking forward to bringing a new salon, day spa and two boutiques to the community.
"We want to create a high-end experience in a unique atmosphere," said Winter, 38, who is launching the new businesses with the support of her husband, Peter, who works for Boehringer Ingelheim.
The unisex salon for men and women will be the only one in Iowa featuring Organic, an English line of hair care products that uses organic ingredients and a minimum amount of chemicals, including hair coloring products with no ammonia. The day spa will offer Eminence, a Hungarian line of natural skin care products, said Winter, who has worked as a hair stylist for 12 years. Customers can also enjoy high-quality butter LONDON nail lacquers, along with pedicures that incorporate moist, hot towels rather than traditional foot soaks.
Beyond the salon and day spa, which will offer facials, waxing, body wraps, manicures, pedicures, South Seas spray tanning and massage therapy, Smurlz will include two high-end boutiques. One will carry high-end scarves, jewelry, hats, hand bags and more from brands like Coach, Ralph Lauren and Fossil. The other boutique will showcase designer American and European lingerie from brands like Cosabella and HOTmilk.
The Smurlz shops will be located in a space that includes more than 6,700 square feet and has housed a variety of businesses through the years, including Fort Dodge's original mall, The Arcade, around 1910. Other businesses at the location have included the Karl King Music House, Don Peterson's photo studio and the Tree Loft Art Gallery.
"There's a lot of fun history here," Winter said. "We're all for the revitalization of downtown Fort Dodge and are excited to be part of this."