When you spend a few days in one place you begin to find some trends among the businesses there. I was part of a group of travel writers that were in northeast Iowa on a culinary tour arranged by Travel Iowa and partners of the region. What I discovered was a wealth of passion, innovation and second careers.
Empty Nest Winery
Located about 30 miles east of Decorah – in Waukon – is Empty Nest Winery. Dave and Pam Kruger started Empty Nest Winery in 2011. They had been making wine for many years before this. They realized that they needed to make it a business when they had to get a license to serve their wine at a couple of local weddings. The name came from their four kids leaving home and making them “empty nesters.” They both thought to themselves that they were “crazy enough to do this.” They pride themselves on being family-owned and operated.
Empty Nest Winery makes wine in small batches with as much whole fruit as possible to get the “true to the fruit” flavor. I love some of the creative names of the wines, such as “Midlife Crisis” – a pure elderberry wine. Another one that makes you giggle is “Hump Day Happiness,” which is a semi-sweet wine with blackberry and grape.
They have a beautiful property, and plans are underway to have their new tasting room open before the end of the season. It will be a huge space for great events and more room to taste the scrumptious wines.
We visited several farms in the Decorah area, but it was surprising to learn that a shrimp farm would be among them. With ocean waters being thousands of miles away, it was hard to imagine getting fresh shrimp from a setup in northern Iowa. This is exactly what we found when we visited Sherlock Shrimp in Ridgeway.
Sherill Ryan showed us around their elementary school turned shrimp farm. The school was abandoned. It was where Sherill’s husband and co-owner, Ryan, attended kindergarten. I love the use of the space that would have been difficult to repurpose otherwise.
The gym was turned into their living and growing shrimp farm. Sherill admitted that they are learning the shrimping business a few steps at a time and having a great time doing it. It’s a lot of research in chemistry and working with others (yes, there are others) doing the same in the region.
The shrimp are sold live at their location, by the pound, as well as to local restaurants. We got a sample during our visit, as well as tried them as part of grilled shrimp bruschetta at La Rana restaurant in Decorah. They were very tasty. It’s a little different texture and is compared to more like lobster than what you would think of Gulf Shrimp.
Oh, and if you didn’t get the reference right away (don’t worry if you didn’t), the name Sherlock Shrimp was defined by the fact that it is housed in a former elementary school. It’s all elementary, dear Watson.
Beyond the Bar Bakery
When my friend, Sara Broers of Travel with Sara, and I were walking downtown Decorah, we ran across Beyond the Bar Bakery. I have a sweet tooth that I just cannot seem to curb and is very difficult to just pass by a bakery without taking a peek inside. We were so glad we stepped in and found some delicious bites behind glass including this red velvet one bite cake. Just for stopping in (and not because we were bloggers) we were each allowed a sample by the owner Jennifer Sullivan.
Jennifer is a former attorney, thus the name Beyond the Bar, and always dreamed of having her own bakery. She currently owns the bakery with her mother, Julie Jevne. They opened as a home-based business in 2012, and opened their downtown location last October.
After sampling just how good the one-bite cakes were, I couldn’t leave without taking something for the road. Sara and I had a long drive ahead of us, so I grabbed a chocolate chip cookie and wished our super friendly host Jennifer a great afternoon.
Northeast Iowa business owners taught me that it is never too late to follow our dreams, change course or to even try something new that we may not know much about. I highly encourage you to check out any of these great businesses when in the area.