Get to know the 2022 Open 4 Business Finalists

August 1, 2022

Five small businesses competed for $20,000 during the Open 4 Business program pitch competition on August 1. The Open 4 Business program encourages business development in designated Main Street Iowa districts around the state. Each applicant completed an online application and submitted a video pitch about how they would invest the Open 4 Business grant funds to help expand and grow their business. Five finalists were selected to pitch their business idea live to a panel of judges for a chance to win. Learn about each of the five finalists below.

Burlington – The Beancounter Coffeehouse & Drinkery (second runner-up)

When Suann Wells’ corporate job was outsourced overseas, she decided it was time to pursue her long-awaited plans for opening a coffee shop. In 2016, The Beancounter opened its doors with hopes of being much more than the average café. It secured a full liquor license to also provide fabulous cocktails, hired an in-house baker to craft handmade pastries using family recipes passed down for generations, offered a seasonal menu featuring fresh ingredients sourced locally, partnered with Grounds and Hounds Coffee Co. to contribute funds to local shelters and opened a retail store on the Beancounter's upper level called Wiggle Butts Boutique, which sells pet products.

While their main draw is the organic menu that includes breakfast, brunch, lunch and soon dinner, The Beancounter has since grown to be a community gathering place that provides a quality retail, beverage and food experience for each customer. Now, their goal is to cater to a younger crowd by adding boba tea to their selection of delicious drinks, an option that is uncommon in the area and has been requested by several young patrons.

The tea-based drink originated in Taiwan in the early 1980s and has since become a popular drink and growing market in the U.S. The Beancounter hopes to use the grant funds to contribute to this niche industry and will utilize the money to purchase specialty boba equipment and high-quality ingredients while also increasing their marketing presence on local radio stations and on social media.

Cedar Rapids – The Hangry Lady (honorable mention)

After receiving her degree as a Dietician from Kirkwood College, Allie Lanham decided her true passion was in crafting beautiful and delicious foods. She went on to attend Kirkwood’s Culinary School and graduated at the top of her class before working for two years at Caucho Restaurant as the Chef de Cuisine, and two years at Popoli where she was named one of 40 Women to Watch by the Iowa Restaurant Association. When Popli temporarily shut down during the pandemic, Allie jumped at the opportunity to pursue her own culinary dreams.

She opened The Hangry Lady in 2020 and shortly after also earned a spot inside the Newbo City Market. There, she crafts charcuterie boards, fresh cold-pressed juices, giant pretzel charcuteries, etc. while also catering for various businesses and events throughout Cedar Rapids. With her history as a dietician and professional chef, Allie thinks of her space as a safe place for people with dietary restrictions with her selection of vegan, gluten- and dairy-free products, things that can be hard to find in the area.

While most of The Hangry Lady’s business comes from catering events, the grant money would be utilized in greatly expanding those operations through purchasing portable refrigerated coolers for additional storage and the opportunity to attend events like farmers markets. This valuable storage space would also allow the business to provide more grab-and-go options and meet Allie’s goal of expanding and the Hangry Lady someday having its own storefront.

Dubuque – Candle Ready Cakes (first runner-up)

After gaining unique food experience as a student at Arizona’s Le Cordon Bleu Institute and working as an assistant pastry chef at a Chicago Michelin Star Restaurant, Jill Takosky moved back to her hometown of Dubuque. There, she pursued her long-awaited dream and opened Candle Ready Cakes in 2012 with the help of her mom and husband and began selling aesthetically pleasing desserts.

After many years filled with success and growth, their company was poised to take on the COVID-19 pandemic when they embraced virtual opportunities like offering Zoom baking classes, which garnered nearly 90 participants. As classes continue to grow, the owners hope to move to a larger space downtown for their permanent home and allow expansion for in-person classes, diversified products, increased production and additional staff.

In the meantime, Jill plans to use the grant funds to upgrade their equipment and storage space through purchasing a walk-in refrigerator, floor mixer, worktables, customer displays and shelving, while also expanding their marketing efforts via social media, local radio and print ads. These plans would help the family-owned venture prepare for the move to a larger space and expand a longtime successful main street business.

Greenfield – The Corner (honorable mention)

With the guidance of the previous owners, Jesse and Talli Ramey have transformed The Corner into an exciting culinary experience in small-town Iowa. With a variety of options spanned between their breakfast, lunch and specialty coffee menus, they have also expanded to add baked goods, catering services and nightly take-and-go meal options all featuring fresh ingredients from local producers.

The Corner is deeply rooted in the community via sponsoring local events, volunteering, sponsoring local sports teams, sharing and engaging with social media photos of their food and new items, etc. While their delicious food and community involvement has since garnered a wide and loyal client base, they are now looking to improve the customer experience and overall restaurant ambiance.

The restaurant is already loved and appreciated for its open space accompanied by comfortable, relaxing music, but the Rameys hope to utilize grant funds to make minor improvements like investing in a better kitchen ventilation system to avoid a smoky dining room and expanding and upgrading equipment such as ranges and refrigerators. They also have plans to build a better web presence and offer online ordering, goals that would transform this ma and pa kitchen into a modern commercial eatery.

Le Mars – Hardware Hank (winner)

While making interior changes to your home can seem like a daunting task, Hardware Hank is striving to make the experience easier and more enjoyable. Since opening the store in 2014, owner Scott Pageler has greatly expanded Hardware Hank’s flooring department, which has taken on projects of all sizes. While the floor renovation process normally includes the customer coming to the store, selecting samples to take home, then bringing the samples back and making a final decision, Scott has big plans to simplify the process.

The big question is: What if it came to you? With the grant funds, Hardware Hank hopes to purchase a mobile flooring showroom to visit customers’ homes directly. The 8’x20’ climate-controlled, fully enclosed cargo trailer would include an inverter generator to power a laptop, mobile hotspot, lighting, TV and printer.

Upon stepping inside, the customer and a Hardware Hank representative would be able to utilize photos and manufacturers’ websites to view digital displays of the client’s home and selected flooring options. Hard surface display racks would provide a physical representation for each option and allow immediate in-home comparison. Meanwhile, measurements can be taken and, once a decision has been made, the final flooring proposal can be printed out and handed directly to the customer. While it would greatly simplify the process, the mobile showroom would also be valuable for attending home shows across the state, give Hardware Hank a competitive advantage and free up more money to be put towards TV advertising and social media efforts.