116 3rd St SE
Cedar Rapids, Iowa 52401
DES MOINES — In April, a beacon of pride to LGBTQ travelers put its light out after less than two years in business in Mount Vernon.
Open for about six months before the pandemic hit, the Thistle’s Summit bed-and-breakfast was hit hard by an abrupt halt in travel. A subsequent derecho didn’t help.
In those six months, the same-sex couple running the venture created a sanctuary where others could feel at ease in a world where even the little things that straight people take for granted are top-of-mind daily for LGBTQ people. In creating an unabashedly queer space, they were privileged to witness tender moments they never anticipated.
But when co-owner Ash Bruxvoort ran into debilitating health issues at age 31, she and partner Marti Payseur decided it was time for a change, as the couple could no longer maintain their 2,800-square-foot Victorian home.
What’s happened since
Six months after moving to Des Moines, Thistle’s Summit has blossomed again as the couple looks forward to exciting new plans for their vegan bakery brand.
“Who knew you could have a vegan, gluten-free bakery and an astrology business and be able to support yourselves,” Bruxvoort said.
The sale of the couple’s picturesque Mount Vernon home, built in 1902, closed in June. It now is owned by a family that includes Cornell College theater professor.
Bruxvoort and Payseur bought a home in the Waveland Park neighborhood of Des Moines the same day it sold.
But more importantly, Thistle’s Summit, now strictly a baked goods brand, has found a home in Des Moines. Running out of a cloud kitchen with retail partners, farmers markets and pop-up locations, sales have doubled as the brand gained a cultlike following for items such as oatmeal cream pies.
Doing pop-up events for both businesses, the couple has introduced themselves to a new convergence of the community brought together by their offerings, including people with dietary conditions and moms of queer kids.
“(They are) people who have been ‘othered’ in some way,” said Payseur, a Des Moines native. “The LGBTQ community here has become so much more expansive than I knew, which was really amazing to see.”
Instead of people coming out at their bed-and-breakfast, LGBTQ customers are connecting in other venues.
“It has been a really cool journey to connect with queer people so organically through food, but that’s not in a space anymore,” Payseur said. “It’s not at my breakfast table, it’s at farmers markets … or making their wedding cake.”
The brand is no longer connected to a physical location as it evolves to reach a broader audience, Payseur said. But what the couple realized is that there’s still a need for a physical gathering space for the LGBTQ community to converge — particularly one that’s friendly for queer women and not centered on alcohol.
Thanks to a recent competition, where Payseur won a $3,500 grant, that kind of space may soon happen. Since the explosion of Thistle’s Summit — more demand than the couple can keep up with — Payseur has been looking to open a brick and mortar bakery in Des Moines.
Payseur won the grant with her life story — coming out as gay, divorcing her ex-husband and opening Thistle’s Summit — and detailing a vision for a queer space in Des Moines that could prioritize food needs for those with food allergies. At Thistle’s Summit, 85 percent of products are gluten-free.
“Those stories don’t usually get told,” she said — stories not just of gay success, but queer joy. “Lesbians are not usually represented at women’s groups. Being a vocal lesbian affords me the ability to make sure other people who are like me can feel comfortable there eventually.”
Those who miss her baked goods in Eastern Iowa can find them at The Slow Down Coffee Co. in the Highland Park neighborhood, Dogpatch Urban Gardens in Des Moines and online at thistlessummit.com.
Most importantly, Bruxvoort’s health has dramatically improved months after what the couple feared would be a multiple sclerosis diagnosis.
She lives with no official diagnosis and widespread musculoskeletal and joint pain — suspicious that the condition may be fibromyalgia, she said.
“While I feel a lot better, my capability was not the same as what it was while I was healthy,” she said. “But it feels more normal to me than it has for about a year.”
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