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A warm, welcoming space

-Messenger photo by Kelby Wingert
Amber Dennis, daughter of Aspen Leaf owner Robbie Kudla, brings out a couple gourmet burgers ordered by customers during the lunch rush on Wednesday.

POCAHONTAS — Robbie Kudla had just entered a contract to purchase a building on Main Street in Pocahontas in early March 2020. She had plans of turning 210 N. Main St. into a local coffee house.

Then the coronavirus pandemic hit.

Instead of giving up or letting the extra challenges get in her way, Kudla decided to use the extra time the pandemic gave her to completely remodel the building, molding it into her perfect vision for Aspen Leaf Cafe and Coffee House.

Over the next seven months, Kudla spent nearly all her freetime remodeling the space, using all “found” materials — recycled, used, refurbished and carefully repurposed — from the ceilings to the floors to the coffee bar to the kitchen.

“It all came together,” she said.

-Messenger photo by Kelby Wingert
Owner Robbie Kudla helps a customer at Aspen Leaf Cafe and Coffee House in Pocahontas on Wednesday.

In the end, when the cafe opened on Oct. 8, 2020, Kudla was left with exactly what she wanted — a warm, welcoming space for members of the Pocahontas community to come and enjoy a good cup of Joe and some food.

“Being brand new and in a smaller, rural area, we’ve done extremely well,” Kudla said. “We’ve had a really positive response on Facebook and Google … we’ve maintained a five-star rating since the day we opened the door.”

The kitchen is led by culinary wizards Debbie Henriksen-Houser and Randy Fosburgh, where they whip up everything from Kudla’s family recipe for Colorado-style green chili, to gourmet burgers, to crepes and more.

What makes many of the gourmet burgers unique — especially for northwest Iowa — are the condiments. Many of the burgers are served with salsas and even fruit preserves from Alida’s Fruits, a nonprofit agency from Palisade, Colorado, that hires, trains and relies on developmentally disabled adults, who grow, pick, clean, cook and package the syrups, jams and salsas.

In fact, the name of the cafe and the overall theme of the food and drink menus are inspired by Kudla’s years of growing up in Colorado.

-Messenger photo by Kelby Wingert
Aspen Leaf Cafe's gourmet burger menu includes The Slippery Slope, which is house recipe green chili, with melted cheese and guacamole over a 1/3-pound burger on Texas toast.

On the “specialatte” menu, there are drinks like the Alpine Loop, the Palisade, the Fourteener and more.

The coffee bar counter is always filled with a variety of goodies like pies, muffins and scones freshly baked by Kudla.

“I think we’re exactly what the community needed during the pandemic,” she said.

When Kudla opened Aspen Leaf, one thing she didn’t want to do was compete with other local eateries and small businesses in the area — she feels it is important for local businesses to work together to keep bringing more people to town.

“They come in and support me by being my patrons and I support them,” she said.

-Messenger photo by Kelby Wingert
Cook Randy Fosburgh starts another order in the kitchen at Aspen Leaf Cafe and Coffee House on Wednesday.

Aspen Leaf has become somewhat of a meeting place for local groups like Bible studies, Kudla said.

“Being a sort of community center here is very important to me,” she said.

While Kudla has found a lot of success in opening a small town coffee shop during a global pandemic, it hasn’t always been easy.

“We have weeks that are really strong and some that aren’t,” she said.

After school lets out during the week, Kudla often sees a gaggle of students lining up for an afternoon caffeinated pick-me-up.

-Messenger photo by Kelby Wingert
Barista Heidi Freeburg steams some milk for a customer's coffee order at Aspen Leaf Cafe and Coffee House on Wednesday.

The process of opening a coffee shop started long before the pandemic came in and slowed things down.

Kudla was able to connect with an array of resources through the Small Business Administration in Fort Dodge and she had help from a $10,000 Jump Start Grant from the Pocahontas County Economic Development Commission.

Aspen Leaf employs 18 people, including several high school students as baristas, Kudla said. The shop also employs individuals from Genesis Development Quality of Life’s Imagine program as dishwashers.

-Messenger photo by Kelby Wingert The Blue Spruce, a 1/3-pound burger with cream cheese and blueberry preserves, is one of several Colorado-themed gourmet burgers on the menu at Aspen Leaf Cafe and Coffee House in Pocahontas.

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