By the Spoonful’s Ruff wins regional ‘Dream Big, Grow Here’ competition

With the $5,000 grant award from the regional Dream Big, Grow Here contest, By the Spoonful owner Katie Ruff would like begin work on renovating the store’s basement into a certified commercial kitchen. (Photo by Audrey Posten)


By Audrey Posten, North Iowa Times Editor


On Jan. 23, By the Spoonful owner Katherine Ruff won the Northeast Iowa Dream Big, Grow Here competition, earning $5,000 for her business, as well as a trip to the state competition, where she has a shot at another $10,000.


Dream Big, Grow Here is a business grant contest that helps Iowans fulfill their dreams of self-employment and expansion of their current firm. A few months ago, dreamers competed online for a chance to win the regional grant, with the top vote getters advancing to a presentation and question-and-answer stage where they explained their business plan to judges in order to win the regional award. While Ruff did not receive enough votes to advance, she was selected as a “wild card,” giving her another shot to claim the grant.


Last Thursday, Ruff made a trip to Calmar, where she presented her business expansion plan to roughly a dozen judges and other people. Her four competitors, all small, locally-owned businesses from Northeast Iowa, did not see her presentation.


Ruff’s plan—which she explained to the judges through a 10-minute presentation—includes renovating the basement of her store at 221 Main St., in McGregor, into a certified commercial kitchen so that By the Spoonful can expand into catering. Ruff also hopes to create take-and-bake meals for customers.


“You’ll be able to take the meal home and pop it in your oven,” Ruff explained. “It gives an option for people who can’t or aren’t allowed to cook or don’t want to.”


Eventually, when time allows, Ruff would like to offer cooking classes and  workshops for locals and youth organizations. She has also considered developing packages with local bed and breakfasts in order to bring more tourists to the area.


“It was nerve-wracking,” Ruff said of the presentation. “I had to stay calm and make sure I sounded like I knew what I was talking about.”


But Ruff knows her plan in and out, and is excited to start expanding.


“The kitchen was part of my five-year plan [for the business],” she said. “I hope to bump that up to one to two years now.”


Some of that work could begin soon. Ruff said she would like to use the $5,000 to install a handwashing sink, stainless steel tables and a demo table, the first step toward creating an “intimate” kitchen setting that will make people feel like they’re “sitting in someone’s home.”


Ruff said it would be ideal to get that project started before the state competition in May, as it would show those judges that she is serious and putting the money to good use.


The state competition will be held at EntreFest! in Iowa City May 14-16 and include nine other regional winners. There, Ruff will present her spiel in only six minutes, something she’s a little nervous about.


“I think everything’s important,” she joked, mentioning that her brother, who is a recent journalism graduate, has helped her fine tune and cut down her presentation to its most important aspects.


While the competition will help Ruff grow her business, she said it has also helped her grow as a person.


“I’m a shyer person, so it’s helped me come out of my shell and be more comfortable and confident,” she said, noting that she was originally unsure about entering the competition. “I realized that I can’t get anywhere if I’m scared.”


Ruff also hopes the expansion and grant award will allow her to delegate some of her shopkeeping duties and devote more time to the food and cooking aspect of the business.


“Hopefully this will bring in jobs,” she said, mentioning that someone would be needed to run the store, while another person could run the deli, especially during the summer.


Ruff said she is appreciative of those who have supported and voted for her throughout the competition, especially since she is a newer business. (Ruff opened By the Spoonful Memorial Day Weekend 2013.) 


However, she is quick to point out that, when people patronize By the Spoonful, they are not just helping her. 


“You’re supporting more than one local business,” she said. “You’re supporting products from all over the state.”

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