CEDAR FALLS — Natalie Brown has a “cupcake” job — literally.
That doesn’t mean it’s necessarily been easy. She’s had a lot of help on the way and is more than willing to “pay it forward” to her community and her employees, many of whom are University of Northern Iowa students.
Her business, Scratch Cupcakery, is expanding its presence in eastern and central Iowa. Located in expanded space in the 300 block of the Cedar Falls Parkade where a Hallmark store once stood, the business is growing, looking to set up a location in West Des Moines before year’s end and another yet-to-be disclosed location in Iowa next spring.
It’s been kind of a whirlwind expansion,” Brown said of her present Parkade site, which opened the day after Thanksgiving. “We did all of our remodel ourselves. ... That day was really insane.”
It was a six-figure financial investment and a significant expansion in staff.
“When I left ‘Little Scratch,’ “ the original downtown site in the 100 block of West Second Street, “we had maybe 15 employees. And now we’re over 60.”
That includes workers at the Waterloo location in the Crossroads “Mini” location on Flammang Drive.
“Most of my employees are college students, which is fantastic for me,” she said. “I love being able to invest in someone that age. People invested in me, so I invest in them.” Work hours are structured around classes. ”I really love hiring people that really don’t have any experience, and we can train them. They get to learn a new skill, so the benefit of that is great for those people.
Brown opened in June 2010. Sweet Basil Market, a separate bulk and gourmet foods store she operates at 111 Main St., opened a year later.
“That opened out of necessity. We weren’t doing the quantities to get bulk discounts from Scratch, so Scratch was purchasing from Sweet Basil,” she said.
Now Scratch is large enough to get bulk item discounts, and Sweet Basil has established enough of a local market to operate on its own.
“I actually don’t have a business background,” she said. “My background is in marketing and graphic design. It was definitely a year of growth, (starting) two businesses in less than a year, but a whole lot of fun growth in the process.”
Brown is known for her donations of product to local nonprofits. Her cupcakes were prominent fare at the Waterloo Salvation Army’s Christmas Day dinner.
“The philanthropy part for me has always been real important,” she said. “I was born and raised in Cedar Falls, and to be able to give back to nonprofits in the community is huge. I worked with a church (Orchard Hill Church) for more than decade, so I understand what nonprofits go through to be able to provide things to their clients. It started with a couple of contacts I had through the church I was working at” when she had leftovers at the end of a production day, and it has grown from there.
“Our donations have kind of exploded,” she said. Donations are determined quarterly by a committee within the company.
“A big part of my personal mission for Scratch is that I love being able to give back. It is a big deal for me,” Brown said. “We’re working to implement a program with our staff for volunteerism, that as a part of their job they volunteer a number of hours in the community,” she said.
Kathy Flynn, a vice president at Hawkeye Community College nominated Brown. She called the entrepreneur “a role model” in everything she has undertaken, “whether career related or volunteer work.”
“She has been an example of dedication, integrity, perseverance and thoughtfulness,” Flynn wrote.