Cafe serves coffee and community
The Serving Cafe in West Branch is a finalist in Iowa's 2023 Open 4 Business Contest competing for a $20,000 grant to support business expansion.
The population of West Branch may only be about 2,500 people. But recent improvements to the local school system, close proximity to Interstate 80 and the perks that come with having a national park and presidential library in your backyard have the town abuzz with good vibes.
“There’s just so much positivity in our little town and it’s exciting," said Jennifer Walker, founder and owner of The Serving Café.
Jennifer grew up in West Branch and has fond memories of serving customers at her mother’s café as a teenager. After getting married and moving around the country for many years for her husband’s military career, they returned to West Branch to settle down near family.
Jennifer was pursuing a master’s degree and had planned on working in an office. “But then something about 2020,” Jennifer said. “It just makes you do a lot of thinking.”
She opened The Serving Café in West Branch in 2021, offering breakfast and lunch using ethically and locally sourced ingredients. The moment she opened the doors, Jennifer knew two things. “I knew we were going to outgrow our space, and this was going to last longer than a year,” Jennifer said. “And now looking back I couldn’t imagine doing anything else but owning a business and serving our community.”
The Serving Café will open their brand new space later this year – a historic garage Jennifer and her husband are in the process of remodeling, which will double their current space. It will also offer outdoor seating and a drive-through.
“West Branch has a very special place in my heart,” Jennifer said. “And I want to see our community thrive and I want to see all of the businesses be successful and serve each other.”
Owning The Serving Café pushed Jennifer out of her comfort zone to grow in her abilities and faith. And it has been rewarding to see the café fulfill all the dreams she had.
“There’s so much laughter and deep conversations going on in our space,” Jennifer said. “And that’s exactly what I had in my business plan, where our community can just feel comfortable and welcome and they are accepted. They can just relax and enjoy some coffee and some good food.”
Competing in Iowa's Open 4 Business Pitch Contest
The Serving Cafe is among five finalists competing for a $20,000 grant in the 2023 Open 4 Business Pitch Contest. The Open 4 Business contest, hosted by Main Street Iowa, is a statewide entrepreneurial contest that provides funding for business expansion projects to small businesses located within a designated main street district in Iowa. The winner will be named after the pitch contest, taking place in Sioux City on August 1 and held in conjunction with the Iowa Downtown Conference. The event is a celebration of small businesses and includes short business pitches, business videos and check presentations to the winners. The five finalists were selected in June by a panel of judges after interviews with all applicants.
If named winner of the 2023 Open 4 Business contest, Jennifer would use the grant funds to purchase new espresso, smoothie and cold brew machines. This will enable The Serving Cafe to meet the growing demand that will come as a result of their new drive-through.