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Queen of Cheesecakes, Holiday Special, Botanical Promenade
December 15, 2020  |  VIEW AS WEBPAGE
 
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Cheesecake by the slice from Shaundria Conner's new bakery business.

AT THE TABLE WITH THE 'QUEEN OF CHEESECAKES'

Writer: Karla Walsh

Occasionally in dsmWeekly, we’ll introduce you to a local food company owned by a person of color. Catch up on the previous editions here.

Shaundria Conner wasn’t exactly vying for the crown of a professional baker when the need to launch her new business, the Queen of Cheesecakes, arose. As a hobby, “for the last five years or so, I’ve baked for my friends and gym and church families," Conner says. "They always urged me to open a bakery [but] I never thought I actually could sell them."

That changed when one fellow churchgoer who sampled Conner’s goodies shared a Facebook photo of a butter pecan cheesecake and asked her to try to re-create it. “I couldn’t sleep one night, so I stayed up at night to try it—I had made a butter pecan cake and riffed on that," Conner says. "Everyone who tried the finished product said, ‘You need to sell this!’ ”

Still, Conner wasn’t convinced until one of the people who sampled it shared a slice with co-workers at a real estate office. An agent then called Conner asking to place an order for a future open house. “The agent had already ordered a cheesecake before I could say no, so I decided to join a licensed kitchen around Labor Day this year and then launched the Queen of Cheesecakes Facebook page,” she says.

Conner offers a variety of flavors and crust options (you can order off the menu as listed here or can customize your cake). To this day, that surprising butter pecan experiment remains her bestseller and signature item. “It’s like butter pecan ice cream and cheesecake decided to have a baby with caramel sauce on top of it all,” Conner says.

Besides the flavors, the real difference that sets Conner’s treats apart is the “love baked into every cheesecake," she says. "It’s still overwhelming to me to get positive feedback. These cheesecakes are like my children—it’s like sending them out in the world. If it can bring joy to people amidst all that’s going on, that means so much."

Just two months in, Conner’s business seems to be booming. When we spoke a week before Thanksgiving, she had already baked more than 50 cheesecakes for holiday orders. To try her creations yourself, visit her Facebook page and click “Book Now” to message Conner directly to place an order. Then you can start counting down until you get to savor your own royally rich custom cheesecake.
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    Local musician and personality Madison Ray helped create "The Holiday Special," a multimedia show put on by xBK Live and Iowa Public Radio. Photo: Cloris Awards.

    ORIGINAL HOLIDAY PLAY TO HIT IOWA PUBLIC RADIO

    Local music venue xBK Live and Iowa Public Radio's Studio One are partnering on a special radio special, "The Holiday Special," an Iowa-produced, original musical at 7 p.m. Sunday. The show will be streamed online. More than 40 Iowa musicians and creatives participated in the project, and Madison Ray, Charlie Reese and Megan Helmers wrote the script.

    "The Holiday Special" features an evil villain who has stolen all the holiday cheer, and a cast of characters who go on the hunt to bring back joy. It will include music videos, shot at xBX Live in Des Moines and ReUnion Brewery in Iowa City, available on IPR's YouTube channel after the live broadcast.

    "We all need this," Ray said of the production in a release. "After a year full of tragedy and scandal, we look to our community for hope and healing. Coming together may look different than before, but we still have each other on both sides of the curtain."

    Among the tracks included is a new song by local duo Annie and Dave Ducharme-Jones. "On the Darkest Nights" is off their forthcoming record, which is expected to be released next month. (The story behind the album will be featured in our January issue, unveiled Jan. 14.)
    The Greater Des Moines Botanical Garden's conservatory is open Tuesdays through Sundays from 10 a.m. to 5 p.m.


    BOTANICAL GARDEN WRAPS UP PROMENADE EVENT

    There are just a couple of chances left to enjoy the Greater Des Moines Botanical Garden's Promenade at the Garden event, as a part of the Historic East Village's 12 Days of Promenade celebration. Visitors can stroll the indoor conservatory and take advantage of shopping deals at 4-8 p.m. tomorrow and Wednesday, Dec. 22.

    Take 10% off all purchases at the garden shop or enjoy drinks and small plates from Trellis Cafe, run by chef/owner Lisa LaValle. You can shop online as well. Check out this website for contactless curbside pickup. COVID-19 restrictions are still in place inside the Botanical Garden; see here for all COVID-19 precautions.
    One of the pianos around downtown Des Moines, free to use for the public. Photo: City Sounds.

    CITY SOUNDS BEGINS 2021 PUBLIC PIANO CAMPAIGN

    Pre-pandemic, if you walked around Des Moines anytime during the spring and summer months, chances are you saw painted pianos sitting in prominent spots in town. The organization behind that campaign, City Sounds, is launching its 2021 drive, "Bring Back the Piano," which will help fund new pianos for free public use.

    City Sounds, founded by Larry James and Kathryn Dickel, plans to reduce the number of pianos it places this year, from 10 to six. It is also asking for donations under $100. Every new supporter’s name will be on a piano for 2021. You can make your donation here. You can track progress here as well.

    To perk up your Tuesday, here's a video of local musician Tony Bohnenkamp playing on a City Sounds piano in the atrium of Mainframe Studios.

    Hannah Krause, the new owner of Eden, is continuing to focus on unique-to-Des Moines products in the East Village institution.

    THE NEXT ACT AT EDEN

    Writer: Kelly Roberson

    This past week, Hannah Krause, the co-owner of Eden in the East Village, got a boost from celebrity Chrissy Teigen, who shared a note from Krause to her more than 33 million followers on Instagram. We wrote about Krause and Eden in our November issue. Here's the story.  

    When Jen Hansen opened Eden on the corner East Fifth Street and Grand Avenue in 2003, she took a leap of faith. There were few other retail shops or restaurants in the nascent East Village, and little to lure foot traffic.

    Luckily, Hansen’s risk paid off: The East Village, and Eden along with it, took off, and the shop eventually moved into a larger space a block east and south. When Hansen died in 2017, Eden’s loyal customers—whom she lovingly referred to as “shopgirls”—tended her vision. Hannah Krause was one of them.

    It was with another leap of faith that Krause bought Eden this past summer—in the midst of a pandemic and economic uncertainty. Her vision for this Des Moines institution offers a glimpse into how the places we love can and should evolve, even as the spirit of the people who gave them to us carries on.

    The 33-year-old Krause, a Cleveland native, graduated from Loyola University and worked in Chicago in various media and publishing roles for six years. She also met and married her husband, Des Moines native and Kum & Go President Tanner Krause, there. When the two relocated to Des Moines in 2016, Hannah left behind a career and friends. She was game to make the adjustment, but she also knew she’d have to forge a new path.

    While Hannah Krause was employed full time at Kum & Go, she also worked part time at Eden. “Eden became a place where I spent a lot of time,” she says. “It felt like a community of very grounded people.”

    When Hannah and Tanner had their daughter, Simone, two years ago, Hannah began a search for what she calls “a purposeful career.” That search coincided with Hansen’s widower, John Hansen, deciding to sell the shop. The shopgirls, who included longtime employee Dena Steinbach, were supportive.

    “From the beginning I thought that Hannah would be a great fit for being the owner and curator of Eden,” Steinbach says. “Hannah genuinely wants to carry on the Eden legacy and honor Jen’s memory.”

    The duality of keeping the Eden magic but making the shop her own are very much on Krause’s mind. “How do I build a future, honor a past and forge a new identity for Eden?” she asks.

    It’s easier because Eden is really a unicorn, Krause says. “Seemingly so effortlessly Jen built this brand that marketers for global brands aim for,” she says. “If you ask people about Eden, the first thing they say is how they feel in the store. It captured some space in hearts and minds of people. You can’t re-create that.”

    Krause wants to build on that: She’s tackling the e-commerce and digital side to ensure both match the brick-and-mortar experience.“I asked John the one thing I could do to honor Jen every day, and he said put the customer first, second and third,” Krause says.

    Five years from now, Krause is confident that longtime fans and first-time visitors will understand how well she has stewarded Hansen’s vision. “Eden is a special place,” she says. “It’s a respite. It transports you, and we will obsess over how we can make that accessible. I’m excited for the next 20 years.”
    Living with anxiety has taught writer Rachel Vogel Quinn that while sorrow and fear are contagious, "so is hope."

    LIVING WITH ANXIETY

    Writer: Rachel Vogel Quinn

    I wake up every morning wearing a suit of armor. It doesn’t protect me, though. No lances or arrows are heading my way. It’s just heavy. So heavy I can hardly move.

    Of course, I’m only wearing pajamas, but my skin seems encased in steel, restricting my movements, weighing me down, dragging me back into bed. I suppose my body thinks it’s protecting me from some unseen danger. It’s caught in a decades-long “fight or flight” mode, but the only thing I’m fleeing is my daily life.

    Like millions of Americans, I suffer from generalized anxiety disorder, panic disorder and specific phobias, including fear of drowning and going to the doctor.

    On my most anxious days, my heart races. I can’t get a deep breath. I feel queasy and dizzy and weak. My muscles tighten, my legs shake uncontrollably, sweat pours down my face. I have an irresistible urge to lie down. Overcome with fear, self-loathing and guilt, I want to hide from the world. I see no hope for the future, only endless toil. Nothing matters, certainly not me.

    Where do these feelings come from? My childhood was a happy one, and I’ve led a largely carefree life. But anxiety has dogged me for nearly 30 years, since I was a young child. When I was 5 years old, I would lie in bed at night repeating the sign of the cross over and over, increasingly frantic that only a perfect right angle would answer my prayers and keep my family safe from harm.

    Read the rest of this first-person narrative from our Lifting the Veil issue here.
     
     
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