Walking in to Thistle’s Summit in downtown Des Moines, customers are instantly greeted by the aromatic smells of a mystical “herbaceous mixture” being brewed upstairs.
But that’s only part of what customers can expect at the new bakery.
Former home baker Marti Payseur and her partner — both in business and in life — astrologist Ash Bruxvoort started Thistle’s Summit, located at 340 SW Fifth St.
The part-“kitchen witch emporium,” part “metaphysical shop” exclusively features gluten-free and vegan desserts and offers astrology appointments conducted by Bruxtvoort. It is the first of its kind in the Des Moines metro, according to Payseur, and its theme: “ways to make life more magical.”
With Payseur’s mastery of gluten-free and vegan baking, Bruxvoort said, people often ask, “Are you a magician?”
However, magic to Payseur and Bruxvoort extends beyond the metaphysical.
“Magic is really just about how you make people feel,” Bruxtvoort said.
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Bruxvoort and Payseur set out on a quest to build a space founded on inclusivity, from the wide variety of options available to customers with the strictest dietary requirements to the welcoming atmosphere created inside.
“We want it to be warm and inviting and welcoming,” Payseur said, “so people feel like they are in a living room.”
From a bed-and-breakfast to a bakery
Thistle’s Summit is Payseur and Bruxvoort’s second major business venture together. In 2019, they opened a bed-and-breakfast of the same name in Mount Vernon with the goal of becoming “Iowa’s queerest bed-and-breakfast.”
With travel severely inhibited by the pandemic, the couple turned toward creative ways to make ends meet.
“I started baking out of our house,” Payseur said, “just to be able to pay our mortgage.”
Serving nearly 60 families a week, Payseur said she realized there was a strong demand for goods sensitive to people’s dietary restrictions. At the time, she said Bruxvoort was also struggling with health issues that led to her cut gluten and eggs from her diet.
It was the perfect opportunity for Payseur to hone her baking craft and fill an unmet need in the community, she said.
Baked good deliveries quickly turned into farmers markets stands and porch popups, with locals lined up to get a taste of Payseur’s treats, the couple said.
“Everyone wanted some sort of joy in their life that felt like an escape from the monotony,” Payseur said.
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The home baking business quickly took over the house, with the kitchen constantly in use and bags of flour piled up across the dining room table, Payseur said. The couple soon realized it was time to expand.
In March 2021, the couple sold the B&B in Mount Vernon and moved back to Des Moines, where they had first started their lives together. By July 2021, the couple was lucky enough to swoop in on another space get access to their dream space downtown, Payseur said, fit with enough room for a bakery and a space for astrology readings.
“Truly magic,” Payseur said.
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‘Built by queer people, particularly for queer people’
The shop’s name is a combination of its former location on Summit Avenue in Mount Vernon combined with the owners’ self-described “muse,” their black lab and Great Pyrenees mix named Thistle.
However, for Bruxvoort, the meaning of the word thistle goes deeper than her dog’s name.
Growing up on a conventional corn and soybean farm, Bruxvoort said her father had always instilled in her that thistles were a nuisance that could only be done away with through pesticides.
“Thistles was always kind of this symbol of outsiders,” she said.
“Since we are running a queer B&B in an area where people didn’t necessarily think you’d be able to do something like that,” she said, “we decided to name it Thistle’s Summit.”
Even though the business has moved from its original location on Summit Avenue and changed its form, Bruxvoort and Payseur say they still feel like name is the perfect fit.
“At the center of everything we both focus on is creating spaces for people who don’t necessarily fit all of the normal traditional boxes to find what they need and connect with each other,” Bruxvoort said.
“This is built by queer people particularly for queer people,” Payseur said. “We want it to feel like it is a community.”
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Sold out goods within hours of opening
Demand for Thistle’s Summit’s vegan and gluten-free treats is heating up across the city, the owners said.
Payseur, who worked as a wholesale baker around Des Moines while the couple set up the shop, said customers used to follow her to her car to try to get a taste of her famous oatmeal cream pies.
When Thistle’s Summit hosted an opening on July 30, cult fans of the ingredient-sensitive bakery were eager to experience an easier way to get their favorite gluten-free and vegan treats, Payseur said.
Within four hours, the store had sold out of all of its baked goods, Bruxvoort said.
“It’s been wild,” Payseur said.
The shop reopened Aug. 4 and 5. When it closed on Aug. 6 so Bruxvoort and Payseur could go to the Hinterland Music Festival, they said they got countless messages from people standing outside of the store hoping to get a taste of what was inside.
The bakery officially opened on Aug. 11 and serves a range of goods from classic cream-filled cookies to cakes, cinnamon rolls and biscuits.
Surrounded by what Payseur called their “little pocket of small business owners” on SW Fifth Street, Payseur said she hopes the bakery’s reach will only continue to expand and contribute to the development of the city.
“Finding these pockets where there is revitalization and change happening is a huge opportunity for us as beginning business owners and also for Des Moines to start expanding its boundaries,” Payseur said.
During their grand opening through Aug. 13, customers can expect a wide variety of treats, gift baskets and a chance to win a free natal chart reading.
Francesca Block is a breaking news reporter at the Des Moines Register. Reach her at FBlock@registermedia.com or on Twitter at @francescablock3.