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Built from Scratch: Scratch Cupcakery-Cedar Falls

While COVID-19 is altering nearly every aspect of life, small businesses are being hit especially hard. These changes are forcing business owners to adjust, but their uplifting stories of perseverance and creativity are showing what Iowans are capable of in difficult times.

Though the pandemic and the derecho have brought many challenges and uncertainty to Iowans, Scratch Cupcakery founder Natalie Brown’s passion for making people smile, one cupcake at a time, didn’t let a few bumps in the road stop her from her passion.

In 2010, Brown found herself yearning for a career change. Inspired by the catering business she owned in college and her love for baking, she decided to open her own bakery. She found and signed a lease on a space in downtown Cedar Falls, turning her dream into a reality.

For the next eight weeks, Brown quickly transformed the space and opened Scratch Bakery and Café in June 2010. She refers to the bakery as “Little Scratch,” offering a variety of baked treats because she wasn’t sure if there was an appetite for exclusively cupcakes. After experiencing an overwhelming amount of support and reassurance that this idea could work, the bakery made a few changes and reopened around one week later as Scratch Cupcakery.

With lines wrapping around the building most days, Brown discovered a larger location on Cedar Falls’ Main Street, so they moved into “Big Scratch” later that year. In 2011, they also launched a food truck, Scratch Curbside, that allowed them to bring their delicious treats to communities throughout Midwest, including Iowa and Illinois. Brown’s love of making people smile motivated her to open stores across Iowa, including Waterloo, West Des Moines, Coralville and finally, a little store called Sweet Basil Market on Main Street, marking five stores opened in five years.

“My family has always owned businesses or worked in different leadership capacities, so being an entrepreneur is a part of who I am,” Brown said. “I’m grateful for my family’s support and encouragement throughout this process, because owning a business definitely takes a village. For example, my mom is our CFO and my dad is our operations manager, so it’s kind of our family business.”

Scratch started with 12 cupcake flavors and now offers more than 370 thanks to years of customer ideas and experimenting with different combinations, one of Brown’s favorite parts of owning a bakery.

“We love getting customer ideas and going through the flavor exploration process, allowing us to manipulate different flavor combinations into something that tastes incredible,” said Brown “We’re grateful to often have the creative freedom to start from scratch on how we can create the perfect cupcake for each customer and their unique event,” said Brown.

Over the years, and with every new store opening, Brown and her team had to consider, “do we want to do big things or be big?” They decided they wanted to do big things — and that they did.

In 2014, Brown started the Scratch Fundraising Program, which allows any kind of group, organization or school to apply to receive help raising money to be used for variety of things, from events like prom to mission trips to medical expenses. Regardless of the reason, Scratch Cupcakery is here to help. In fact, many groups have raised more than $10,000 in profit through the fundraising program.

“Fundraising has always been a part of who I am,” said Brown “I loved selling stuff and raising money for the high school choir, so I knew when we started Scratch that we had to figure out a way to give back. I love that this program teaches others how to fundraise, communicate their passion and really sell their idea to someone.”

Like many other businesses across Iowa, on March 17, all work came to a halt. Brown and her team decided to close all locations to ensure everyone’s safety and for almost two months, Scratch Cupcakery’s doors were closed. However, the team remained hopeful that things would turn around and get better.

“When everything shut down, it forced us to look at what’s really important for our business, and Scratch has always been about the people first and the cupcakes second,” said Brown. “It really solidified that every decision we made had to prioritize the health and safety of our staff and our customers.”

Though they were closed, their customers continued to show their support, appreciation and excitement for the day Scratch would reopen. On May 16, all locations reopened to the public, offering to-go, delivery and curbside service only. Scratch Curbside also started operating again on May 22. Now, all locations are open to the public and Brown and her team is excited to continue serving incredible cupcakes to their customers.

“Especially right now, it’s so important to support the small businesses in Iowa, because the small businesses are a huge part of what makes Iowa so amazing,” said Brown. “If there’s ever been a time when we need to look at Iowa’s small businesses as part of the bigger picture of who we are as a state, it’s now. As more businesses have reopened, we just want our customers to know that we appreciate their support because this is our livelihood.”

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