After bidding adieu to their Eastern Iowa bed and breakfast in 2020, partners Marti Payseur and Ash Bruxvoort are carrying its spirit forward in a new downtown Des Moines bakery/retail space.
Payseur — the owner, recipe developer and baker for Thistle’s Summit — and Bruxvoort — an ancestral astrologist, earth intuitive and herbalist — have spent the past two years serving their respective clientele in Des Moines via custom orders and Zoom calls, farmers markets and online classes. But they’ve always wanted a safe and accessible space to share — not only with each other but with the queer community and beyond.
Located at 340 SW 5th St, Unit 122, previously home to a sustainable home goods store called The Collective, Thistle’s Summit had a successful soft opening the last weekend in July. Ash Gravity Astrology, Bruxvoort’s arm of the business, offers consultations by appointment only, and retail hours are Thursday through Friday from 8 a.m. to 2 p.m.
Little Village spoke with Payseur and Bruxvoort about what’s to come.
Questions and answers have been edited for length and clarity.
How did Thistle’s Summit start? Take us back to the beginning.
Marti: Ash and I after some wine one night were on Zillow, as one does … and we were like, “Well we could run a bed and breakfast!” We got on Zillow and found a house in Mount Vernon, Iowa, and totally fell in love with it.
We opened in July of 2019 and then shut our doors March 2020 with the full intention to reopen. And then COVID raged on, and I started cooking full-time totally illegally out of my kitchen, and I have no shame in that—I think we all have to do what we have to do. And you know, Martha Stewart also started that way, which is my favorite fact.
How did you wind up back in Des Moines?
M: Our delivery vehicle was actually totaled in Mount Vernon, and we were like, OK, this feels like kind of an omen. And then Ash’s health kind of fell apart. We decided we had resources and people here that cared about our business, and I needed a kitchen.
How will the new space integrate both the Thistle’s Summit bakery and Ash Gravity Astrology?
Ash: The space is a live-work unit, but rather than living there we’re going to use the upstairs loft as my space for my business. So I have an office there where I’m going to be able to meet with clients for astrology readings and hypnotherapy sessions. I also plan to teach classes there as well about astrology and plant medicine and plant communication. I kind of think of it as like practical magic/kitchen witch space. We’re trying to cater to somebody who is trying to explore the witchy world, maybe for the first time, and wants to learn how they can do that in practical ways around their home with really simple things to make life more magical, which I feel like we all need right now.
Marti, you weren’t always a vegan baker. Why did you begin baking vegan and gluten-free?
M: Well, it was so my partner still loves me! When Ash was having some health issues, something we decided to do to mitigate some of the symptoms was to remove egg and to go gluten-free. And by the time you take out eggs in baking, you’re pretty much at a vegan product already. Ash has eaten so many, so many bad cookies as the first line of R&D.
We found that so many of the people in our community were eating vegan and gluten-free and there are very few options … The need was always there, and I love doing things the hard way because I love learning.
And after the B&B?
I just kept experimenting to the point where there really wasn’t a need for animal products or gluten in my baking because I felt I was delivering a product that was on par, if not better, than what you could achieve with butter and flour. I like the idea of catering to people that don’t feel seen. The food world kind of thumbs their nose at dietary restrictions. I think it’s improving but it’s still pretty hard. Being queer, our whole mission is to just make people feel seen, loved and taken care of. And I can find no better way to do that than through really caring about and catering to what people can put in their body.
What Thistle Summit goodies will be in the regular rotation?
M: We are known for our cream-filled cookies — the oatmeal cream pie, or the OCP, is a small cult unto itself. We’ll be well stocked with those. I’ll keep the classics, like the snickerdoodle (which is not a fan favorite but it’s my favorite), the tie-dye Sugar Mamas, in addition to seasonal bars — so a lot of things that you’ve seen through our retailers. But a retail space like this affords us the ability to do things that we just can’t put in pastry cases.
On that note, do you have any new baked creations that you’ll be debuting?
M: One thing I’m really excited about—I’m billing them “ZodiCakes” — they are monthly zodiac-inspired flavors and they’ll be lunchbox-sized cakes. You won’t have to preorder; they’ll just be grab-and-go. I’m also just excited to play … this one product, Tom Bumble, it’s like a Butterfinger basically, but a fancy Butterfinger and I just know people are going to be obsessed with it.
I produce things in the thousands right now, and I definitely hope that this is so successful that that’s where I’m at. But it’ll be nice to do some lower-volume things, like herbal shortbreads that are inspired by Ash’s teas, and find other ways we can tie our two brands together.
What is your ultimate hope for this new chapter of Thistle’s Summit?
A: I hope that it’s a space for people to connect. Having a place where people can come and do things that are very playful and about joy, I think it will be really powerful.
M: It was something I really loved about doing pop-ups and markets: hearing from children that they get to eat a birthday cake for the first time in their lives, or the way someone’s face lights up when they come up to a table filled with baked goods and they’re told they can eat anything they want off of it. They’re gluten-free or they have Celiac, and they haven’t been able to have a good cookie in like 15 years. These stories absolutely affirmed for me that I was on the right track. I’m so excited to be people’s Saturday morning little treat/lifestyle stop and to be able to enrich their lives that way.
This article was originally published in Little Village Central Iowa issue 005.