Emily and Nick Puls started their life together in Dubuque, Iowa but moved to Napa Valley, California so Emily could attend culinary school. Emily graduated and she and Nick sold their freshly baked goods at area farmers’ markets. Business was good, but when they wanted to start a family, they decided to move back home to Dubuque. The couple found full-time jobs and were soon attending area farmers’ markets, where they noticed there was always a lack of prepared food.
Taking a chance, the Puls quit their full-time jobs and started their own baking business in a little shop in East Dubuque, Illinois, calling it East Mill Bakeshop. The shop was in an obscure location; however, the price was right and they were able to easily attend the farmer’s market in downtown Dubuque. At the market they sold a multitude of made-to-order breakfast sandwiches using their signature English muffin. “We sold over 400 sandwiches in five hours the first time,” says Emily.
From this success, they were able to land contracts providing bakery goods to Mystique Casino, Hy-Vee, and several local restaurants. They also landed several catering jobs and private dinners. Business boomed and the Puls soon decided they wanted to expand further.
Nick and Emily found a larger location in Dubuque and were soon renovating the ‘Milk House on Grandview’, a highly visible location on Grandview Boulevard that had seen several businesses come and go since its long-standing days as a local ice cream shoppe.
Throughout this process, the couple had their feelers out in the business community for mentors. They were referred to Jay Wickham at the Northeast Iowa Small Business Development Center (SBDC). Jay helped them develop a great business plan and also put together the necessary financials so they could obtain a loan from American Trust & Savings Bank for the renovation of their new location.
“Our experience with the SBDC was amazing. I was very apprehensive at first, but Jay was the first person I could understand. He was very consistent and we wouldn’t be where we are today without Jay Wickham and the SBDC,” says Emily.
East Mill Bake Shop & Catering now has 17 wholesale accounts and is in all of the Hy-Vee stores in the Dubuque area. In addition, the business now has 14 employees, half of whom are full-time. The Puls had started with a small bakery shop, added selling wholesale, and then added catering in 2015.
“In the last year the business has tripled. We are consistently achieving more than anticipated,” says Emily.
Being in a small community has helped the business thrive. East Mill Bakeshop’s marketing strategies include social media, radio commercials, and giveaways. Their most successful strategy, however, is word-of-mouth from satisfied customers.
While the community helps market the business, East Mill Bakeshop & Catering gives back to the community. The business uses primarily local, farm-fresh ingredients and each night bakery goods are donated to The Dubuque Rescue Mission. They also do sponsorships and dinners for organizations, plus they started the Grandview Avenue Monday Farmers’ Market, in order to serve the local residential neighborhood.
In the future, the couple hopes to expand their business further by increasing the seating they have available in their shop.
To learn more about this successful Dubuque bakery, visit their website at http://www.eastmillbakeshop.com or the East Mill Bakeshop & Catering Facebook page at https://www.facebook.com/East-Mill-Bakeshop-Catering-257415170981592.