Let it be said that Vermillion has a number of professional businessmen and women who have done some remarkable things over the years.
That spurred The Plain Talk to what it hopes will be the first in a number of series about Vermillion and Clay County.
‘The Art of…” is a concept that we hope to share with readers that discusses different elements of the culture and society that Vermillion is built upon.
We begin this project with ‘The Art of Success” series and with that we will focus on some of the more successful businesses in Vermillion-area proper. We will share the how, the why, the what, the where, and most importantly, the who from these stories.
There are only so many more we can write about, but after extensive questioning of a number of people we have a solid list of businesses we believe can give readers a sense of what it takes to be a success and how these establishments have helped Vermillion.
Thus begins the Art of Success as we spotlight Café Brule which is more than halfway through its fourth year of existence.
The Dream Team
They were two talents successful in their own ways of doing things within the world of restaurants, cooking, and baking.
Then when James Waters and Monica Iverson joined forces they gave birth to French fusion cuisine unlike any other in Vermillion.
Thus began the rise of Café Brule in Vermillion back on April 7 of 2011.
The restaurant/café located on 24 Main Street in downtown Vermillion is rarely seen less than full with customers during any major meal time, seven days a week. Even during those bridge times between breakfast-and-lunch and lunch-and-dinner, there is still a strong smattering of patrons taking in the various meals, pastries, and drinks.
“It just sound cool to mean to have kicked up American and kicked down European,” Waters said of the genesis for Café Brule. “It’s absolutely a fusion café.”
Chef Waters grew up in a family that lived and worked in a restaurant world. Iverson grew up baking an assortment of goodies with the women in her family and both matured with a passion belying the years they committed to their crafts. She also lent her experiences with French culture to the concept of Café Brule.
Those two forces found each other over a decade ago.
Iverson was working at Jones Food Center baking birthday and wedding cakes through contract work, while Smith plied his trade at Mr. Smith’s Café inside the same building. That building currently houses Ace Hardware, Wells Fargo Bank and Mr. Smith’s.
Waters wanted to step out and try something else as did Iverson.
“I took over the bakery management at the Jones Food Center which was more where she was at,” Waters said of Iverson. “She was looking for a place outside and I started looking for a place too. Then she heard I was spotted in this building and she approached me. We were both looking at the same time and decided to work together.”
Iverson was confident about joining up with Waters.
“I knew he was passionate and he is an amazing chef,” Iverson said. “I knew he was honest. Those were the three things that I could deal with.”
Waters felt Iverson’s strengths compliment his.
“She is an amazing decorator, a very, very hard worker and she is very compassionate,” Waters said. “Her cakes are tops. They are the best. She’s an award winner.”
The menu caters to all types of tastes with a blend of European tastes and a hybrid of American fare. It’s easy to find meals more synonymous with country eats sitting on the same page of a menu with orders one would find in a big city.
Cakes By Monica was also able to come to life as Iverson whips up a number of cakes, muffins, and other sweets that the restaurant is ready to serve up to tantalized tastebuds.
The entire teaming and concept has been successful since the beginning. Their reputations as strong players in the local restaurant business helped push the duo to early success.
“It almost started by day one,” Waters said. “We did a very soft opening and didn’t tell anybody we were opening. We had brown paper on our windows and we came in on a Thursday morning and pulled paper off of them. The massage therapist down the street Lois Halverson walked by and told people we were open and she was our first customer. By the end of the day we were filling up.”
One thing that works for the establishment is the idea that about 70 part-time employees work, mostly up front, and yet the symmetry rarely fails to rise to high levels. Waters said most of the full time workers work in the kitchen.
A number of the workers are college students, a number of which have laid down roots as reliable workers.
“They follow our passion, because we are very passionate about what we do,” Waters said of himself and Iverson. “Consistency of expectations is a part of it too.”
“We have a lot of things written down and that’s good for reference for people and that we do things a certain way,” Iverson said. “They have to go through check lists and have to be familiar with everything. We also have a good core who started working with us as freshmen (in college) and liked working with us and stayed with us. A third or quarter of our workers have been with us for a while.”
The workers enjoy the experience of giving their all for 15 hours or so a week at Café Brule.
“I like working here because the atmosphere is very friendly and my co-workers are easy to get along with,” Café Brule employee Vickie Lau said. “I love the vibe. The people who come in here are very friendly and are usuals are very nice. We also have good service and that’s why I started working here. I always had really good service here so I thought it would be a good place to work at.”
“It’s a friendly atmosphere and it has good food, good coffee and is at a good location,” customer Roger Jeck said. “It’s very reasonably priced, especially when my friend is buying.”
Jeck’s friend Tim Hanson echoed his sentiments.
“I come here because I like the jokes,” Hanson said smiling at Jeck. “Seriously, I like the food, the music. My favorite dish is the country side Benedict, but I don’t have it because it’s too much food, even for me. But it’s really good and they give you big portions with all you can drink coffee too.”
But to be a successful business that fits this model it has to come from people who want something to make it and do all the right things to make it happen. It also requires a strong family support, both of which Waters and Iverson say they have in their respective spouses.
“You need commitment, consistency, and passion,” Waters said. “When I say consistency…when you are first starting out you may not be so busy on a Sunday night, but you need to keep those hours consistent. When we first started out our Sunday nights weren’t very busy. Now our Sunday nights are really busy. It’s because we are always open the same hours every day of the year.
“Some businesses are kind of like ‘it’s a little quieter, let’s close early.’ But then those people who drove over from Yankton and Sioux City come over and you’re not open. It leaves a bad taste in their mouths. I have also been big on consistency in hours, in product. Also the terminology in my kitchen…’that’s good enough’ is not allowed. It’s either good, or it’s not.”
“You also have to love what you do and want to share it,” Iverson added. “You have to give up some of your life. That’s part of it. The wanting to sacrifice the time, the weekends. It’s a risk. It’s a big risk. We gave up a lot of what we were comfortable with. Regular paychecks, regular income and now you are not sure about that anymore. Now you are jumping into something unknown.”
So how’s the unknown turned out?
“It’s worked out great for us,” Waters said. “We’re blessed.”