116 3rd St SE
Cedar Rapids, Iowa 52401
CEDAR RAPIDS — After a year in which the coronavirus pandemic emptied public gathering spaces, Cedar Rapids’ NewBo City Market is returning to its pre-pandemic self.
“Business is great,” Kyle Kilburg said. “We’re just having a great time seeing some new happy faces and some repeat customers. We’re loving the vibe and all the other vendors.”
Kilburg and his brother, Kevin, are owners of Torch Kitchen, one of six new NewBo businesses that opened on or around June 6.
“It was a great experience, getting tossed on a treadmill that’s already moving,” he said. “There’s a lot of people coming through, there’s so many new places. It’s a new experience for us, too. It’s a shared adventure.”
“So far so good,” is the assessment of Kellie Kesselring, owner of Grandma’s Root Cellar. “I’ve enjoyed talking to people, which is one of my favorite activities anyway — talking and cooking.”
“It’s pretty fresh, still,” said Allie Lanham, aka the Hangry Lady.
Tyler Hegewald plans to open Prairie Soup Co.’s NewBo location by July. He bought Prairie Soup, opened in 2008 on the skywalk level of 425 Plaza in downtown Cedar Rapids, in March.
“It’s been on my mind for a long time,” Hegewald said of the expansion. “It’s more people, a different clientele. We aren’t currently open weekends, and NewBo is.”
The new businesses are launched through NewBo’s Hatchery program, designed to help new entrepreneurs get off the ground at the market. The program provides training in business development and management and grants in the form of discounted space rental.
Incubating new businesses has been part of NewBo’s mission since the market opened in 2012.
“I’m hoping NewBo will be a great stepping stone for me, so eventually I can move to a larger space and have ovens and all the equipment I’d need,” Lanham said.
Hangry Lady’s charcuterie offerings include products from some NewBo start-ups that since have graduated into their own brick-and-mortar outlets — meats from Anvil Meat Market and Deli, pretzels from Rustic Hearth Bakery.
“It’s a creative way to being back their pretzels to NewBo,” Lanham said of Rustic Hearth.
“That whole program is great,” Kilburg said. “If we find a home here, that’s great. Maybe getting a (food) truck, maybe getting brick-and-mortar, that’d be a nice thing.”
“I’d definitely like to have my own brick-and-mortar shop someplace,” Kesselring added.
She’d also like to launch a culinary training program such as the one she attended in Chicago before moving home to West Branch in 2016.
Kesselring’s Grandma’s Root Cellar specializes in jams, pickles, hot sauces and baked goods familiar to generations of Iowa grandmothers, as well as a few fermented foods — kombucha, tepache and kimchi — that could raise a few grandmas’ eyebrows.
The Root Cellar also features daily soup and sandwich specials.
“I’ve been cooking since I was barely able to see over the countertop,” she recalled.
“I learned about cooking from my grandma, which was kind of my inspiration. My grandma really did have a root cellar.”
Lanham graduated from Kirkwood Community College’s culinary arts program and worked in the restaurant kitchens at Caucho and Popoli.
“I’ve always wanted to open my own business,” she said. “I changed my business plan to fit NewBo, adding things that are easier and grab-and-go.
“I want to be a culinary catch-all — whatever you’re envisioning within a certain price range, talk to me about it and we’ll come up with something cool and creative.”
Carol Elliott, owner Aroma Artisan Pizza, a four-year NewBo veteran, had planned a trip to Italy last year to sample that country’s gelato and other frozen specialties.
“That didn’t happen,” Elliott said, so she opened Luna Gelato and Ice Cream, next to Aroma.
“It’s curating these wonderful flavors that are so good this summer,” she said.
As with her new neighbors, Elliott emphasizes fresh local ingredients wherever possible, sourcing products from Dan and Debby’s Creamery in Ely, Yotty’s Ice Cream Shop in Kalona, and Capanna Coffee and Gelato in North Liberty.
What Kilburg calls Torch’s “bite-sized crave cuisine” includes sliders, fried dumplings, fries and dipping sauces.
“It’s an inclusive yet eclectic cuisine,” he said. “Even though you’re eating a cheeseburger, it’s bison and high-quality cheese.”
The Kilburg brothers had hoped to open a business last year.
“We had an idea for a food truck, and put the brakes on it,” he said.
“Once we realized NewBo was an option, we had to sit down and reconfigure some things. That forced adversity kind of brought out the food we wanted to do.”
WeDream Technical Solutions, which handles online remote PC repair and other tech services, also is now among the market’s new vendors.
Elliott noted the loss of some vendors during the 2020 shutdown allowed NewBo management to upgrade and freshen its market spaces, fortifying the walls and updating wiring and plumbing.
“Last year was just so hard,” she said. “It was hard for those businesses that survived, it was harder for those businesses that didn’t.
“We’re seeing this wonderful revitalization. It’s bringing us back. That’s the joy of being at the market.”
“The universe just seemed to point in this direction,” Kesselring said. “Things are starting to open back up, and it just seemed like the time to do this — get the rest of the world to eat my food.”