Tama-Cedar Rapids business ties run deep

Earlier this year our friends at Brewhemia in Cedar Rapids bought into Ross Street Roasting Co., becoming an equity owner and active business partner to me, founder/roaster Brian Gumm. Brewhemia co-owner, Steve Shriver, is also president & founder of Eco Lips, makers of Organic & Fair Trade lip care products.

Both Brewhemia and Eco Lips are located in the New Bohemia district just south of downtown Cedar Rapids, an area that was decimated by the 2008 floods and has been dramatically redeveloped in the 9 years since. Eco Lips is located in the Cherry Building, which originally housed the J.G. Cherry Company, a dairy industry supply company that started in the late 1800s. 

Last night my wife and I attended a presentation by a local historian about two famous houses in Tama-Toledo, one of which is locally known as "Cherry Mansion." I had known about this house and its name for most of the 5 years that I've lived here, but didn't really know why it was called that. Well, last night I learned that it was named after two long-time residents of the house, Herbert Tilden and Helen Louise Cherry.

As the local historian was describing the Cherry family, she pointed out that Herbert had come from Cedar Rapids and the family often spent time there, and also frequently had friends coming to visit their Tama home from Cedar Rapids.

And a thought occurred to me: "Wait...a Cherry from Cedar Rapids. Eco Lips is in the Cherry Building in NewBo...?"

With a bit of googling, I discovered that there is indeed a family connection. Herbert's father was John George (J.G.) Cherry. Herbert worked for his father's company upon graduating from high school in 1888, and in 1914 he was sent to Tama upon the company's acquisition of a paper factory here (which is still in operation 3 blocks from the roastery). Upon acquisitions of other paper companies in the region, Herbert served as president of that merged entity from 1931-1945.

Herbert passed away in 1949 at the age of 71. His wife, Louise, passed away in 1965 at the age of 83. They were both well-regarded and remembered for their abundant generosity and support of the local community, and for their hospitality. There are people living today who recall Halloween parties hosted by Mrs. Cherry, and I even saw a few color photos of one from the late 50s/early 60s before her death.

From the start of this business, I have intentionally networked with the urban centers that surround Tama-Toledo an hour in every direction, especially Cedar Rapids. That networking eventually resulted in a business relationship, and I thought I was being a savvy rural entrepreneur at the time for seeking such partnerships.

But the Ecclesiastes principle still applies: There is nothing new under the sun. My partners in Cedar Rapids and I are merely standing in a line stretching back over a century. It's humbling to make such discoveries, and exciting as well. It gives me a deeper sense of belonging in the place we call home.



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