September 12, 2023

Hi there, Tuesday.

☀️ Weather: Sunny with a high near 75°.

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📚 On this day in 1867, the principal of an all-white school in Muscatine turned away Susan Clark, a Black student.

  • Her father sued the school and it went all the way up to the Iowa Supreme Court, which ruled students cannot be denied admission because of the color of their skin, according to Notes on Iowa.

Today's Smart Brevity™ count is 828 words — a 3-minute read.

1 big thing: Rise and grind

Rod Johnson (left) and BLK & Bold Cold Brew. Photos: Courtesy of BLK & Bold

BLK & Bold, a local Black-owned coffee company, was Iowa's fastest-growing private business between 2019-2022 by growing 7,404%, according to Inc. 5000's 2023 list.

Why it matters: People don't often associate thriving Black-owned businesses with Iowa — especially since the state's population is nearly 90% white, co-founder Rod Johnson tells Axios.

  • But by operating and growing out of Des Moines, the business has thrived and been able to dedicate 5% of its gross profits to nonprofits helping at-risk youth around the U.S.

Driving the news: Expanding the company's retail presence, as well as its manufacturing and distribution, helped fuel BLK & Bold's quick growth, Johnson says.

State of play: What started as an online-only business in 2018 has grown to having products in 8,000+ retail stores, including Target, Walgreens, Albertsons, Safeway and Hy-Vee, as well as partnerships with Marvel and the NBA.

How it started: Childhood friends and entrepreneurs Pernell Cezar and Johnson started the company from Cezar's garage with a small, tabletop roaster.

  • As they experimented with their product and grew, they acquired a larger roaster and worked in the back of Fox Brewing in West Des Moines.
  • Then in 2020, in the midst of the pandemic and the national protests following the murder of George Floyd by police, their online business exploded.

Between the lines: They became the first Black-owned nationally distributed coffee company in 2020, as well as a certified B corporation — joining companies like TOMS and Ben & Jerry's to show their commitment to improving social and environmental impact.

What's next: The duo wants to own their own brick-and-mortar cafes within the next three to five years in cities like New York City, Chicago and Des Moines.

  • They are also creating a nonprofit foundation next year.

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2. Helping Ukrainian farmers

Purebred Vietnamese Pot-bellied pigs on a farm in the Kyiv region in August. Photo: Maxym Marusenko/NurPhoto via Getty Images

An Iowa State professor is virtually teaching Ukrainian grain farmers how to use their excess product to raise hogs.

Why it matters: Russia's invasion of Ukraine has disrupted the supply chain for the "bread basket" of the world, leaving its farmers with a surplus of grain.

  • Iowa State professor Justin Brown is teaching them how to use their extra grain as feed to raise hogs, as meat production is more profitable, he tells Axios.

How it works: Brown is partnering with the Association of Ukrainian Pig Breeders, which translates his live webinars, Q&A sessions and slides into Ukrainian for up to 80 attendees.

  • He wakes up around 4am to prepare for the 5am sessions, around lunchtime in Ukraine.

What they're saying: "A pig's, a pig's, a pig's. It doesn't matter where it is, but everybody starts somewhere with their knowledge base," Brown says.

What's next: The sessions, which started in April, end on Sept. 27.

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3. The Best Thing Linh Ate: Onion rings

A stack of onion rings ($7) from the Ring King food truck. Photo: Linh Ta/Axios

👋 Linh here. If you're looking for some of our metro's best onion rings, visit the "Ring King" food truck at the Valley Junction Farmers Market on Thursdays.

What it is: Onion rings with a side of ketchup ($7).

What makes them great: Perfect levels of breading, onion and oil.

  • The breading has a good chew without falling apart, while the onion balances the taste out with a nice fragrant crunch.
  • Onion rings for dinner typically equal bleh stomach. But I didn't feel like oily garbage afterwards. Yay!

Where to find them: Valley Junction Farmers Market in West Des Moines from 4-8:30pm on Thursdays.

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4. The Ear: Carry on hay-ward, son

"Don't you cry no more." Illustration: Brendan Lynch/Axios

🗳 DSM City Council unanimously approved adding Ward 1 to the Nov. 7 ballot to fill a spot vacated last week by Indira Sheumaker. (KCCI)

🏗 The Food Bank of Iowa has raised most of the money needed for an $11 million DSM distribution center expansion project that will allow it to accept larger donations and nearly double its storage capacity. (Business Record)

💵 Iowa Democratic Party Chairperson Rita Hart is asking their national party to invest more heavily in Iowa. (Des Moines Register)

🤰 A nurse-midwives program was launched by UI to alleviate a shortfall in the number of Iowa's maternal health care providers. (Iowa Public Radio)

🌽 Thanks for the pun, Katie Greenstein!

A new career is waiting for you

💼 Check out who's hiring now.

  1. Chief Communications Officer at City of Des Moines.
  2. Senior Director, Account Executive Domain at Cambium.
  3. Controller at Robert Half.

Want more opportunities? Check out our Job Board.

Hiring? Use code FIRST50 for $50 off your first job post.

5. 📖 1 book to go: 100 things to do in DSM

Photo: Courtesy of Erin Huiatt

If you're looking for a curated list of things to do before you're on your deathbed — good news! There's a new book for that.

Driving the news: "100 Things to do in Des Moines Before you Die" was written by local blogger and entrepreneur Erin Huiatt, who's also behind Des Moines Parent.

State of play: The books lists all the classic Des Moines places to visit, from Snookies Malt Shop in Beaverdale to the Iowa Gold Star Military Museum in Johnston.

  • It also shares itineraries and unique facts, like how Iowa is home to the only five-dome capitol in the U.S.

What's next: The book is available for order now ($18).

  • Huiatt will be signing books around the metro starting Sept. 22 — Des Moines' birthday.

🍜 Linh's must-do: Eat pho from any one of Des Moines' Vietnamese restaurants.

💋 Jason's: Drag brunch.

Today's newsletter was edited by Everett Cook and copy edited by Lucia Maher.