The room is dimly lit with the perfect mood lighting.
Soul and smooth jazz play in the background. The aroma of delicious food such as prime rib and smoked salmon fills the air. You are gathered for a special occasion or maybe a weekly date night.
At the front door, you are greeted by the smiling face of Brian Gould, the general manager at Aunt Maude’s.
Today is National Mom and Pop Business Owners Day, which acknowledges and celebrates the approximately 27 million small businesses in America.
Small businesses are a vital part of the United States' society and economy. According to the financial analysis company Sageworks, small businesses generate more than half of net new jobs and, in total, employ 58 million Americans.
Here in Ames, it is not difficult to find a local business to support. In downtown alone, there are over 50 small businesses. From clothing boutiques to restaurants to law firms, Ames has a wide variety of small businesses.
Many Ames businesses boast positive ideals such as excellent service and a personal touch. One restaurant in particular has been carrying out these ideals since 1975. Aunt Maude’s, located on Main Street in historic downtown Ames, was modeled around the founder’s favorite restaurant in Kansas City, Missouri.
Although Aunt Maude is a person of myth, Gould explains the name represents the casual, personal style they strive to carry out each day.
“Aunt Maude is a fictitious person. [The name] has to do with comfort,” Gould said. “The idea of coming into someone’s home, feeling comfortable with family and friends. We always try to make people feel welcome, surrounded by friends, family and good hospitality when they come [to Aunt Maude’s].”
Like many small businesses, Aunt Maude’s is no stranger to financial difficulties. With the state of our economy constantly changing, business owners must learn to adapt quickly to changes. In 1991, the previous owners of Aunt Maude’s were unable to fulfill this need causing the restaurant to go out of business.
After Aunt Maude’s went out of business, Pat Breen and Bob Cummings, former owners of Ames Mexican cafe “O’Malley & McGees,” bought the restaurant that same year.
“[Breen and Cumming’s] friends and business partners talked them into buying Aunt Maude’s because they thought that Ames needed Aunt Maude’s to be in the community and a place for businessmen and college students to go to a nice restaurant,” Gould said.
Breen not only owns Aunt Maude’s but is also partnered with Provisions Lot F and The Cafe, two other local restaurants.
Together, the three businesses employ approximately 300 people, most of which are Iowa State students. Of the approximately 45 employees at Aunt Maude’s, Gould estimates three-fourths are students.
After being re-bought, the interior of Aunt Maude's was stripped for redecoration and a fresh new look. Now, nearly every piece of art decorating the restaurant has a story.
Behind the bar, an extravagant wood frame outlines the entire wall. This frame came from an old hotel which had been shut down. In the dining area is a large stained glass window which was taken from an early 1900’s Minnesota mansion.
Finally, above each window is a unique fish, which Breen caught himself while living in southern California.
Though the restaurant has been considered more of a place for fine dining, Gould says they are constantly battling the perception of being the “expensive restaurant in town.”
In order to appeal to students at the university, each Wednesday night, the restaurant has a new special typically twelve dollars or less. During the summertime, they also open up the front patio.
“[The patio] is a very popular attraction. People often fight over the tables,” Gould said. “We don’t have a huge patio, only four tables, but it is very popular. Especially on [Wednesday] nights and the weekends as well.”
Working at Aunt Maude’s for approximately 15 years, seven as the general manager, Gould has had the opportunity to meet people from all over the world. Being in a university town, the restaurant attracts international students, families and alumni from across the country, and a variety of faculty and staff members.
Gould recalls a group of Italians visiting the restaurant everyday for lunch one year while they were in Ames for work. Like this group, many people tend to visit Aunt Maude’s regularly. One couple travels from Fort Dodge, Iowa, each weekend to eat at the restaurant. They also have many regular customers from the Ames area.
The busiest time of the year for Aunt Maude’s is the holiday season. However, customers also dine at Aunt Maude’s for special occasions such as birthdays, graduations or anniversaries. Gould has even witnessed a few engagements at the restaurant.
Gould has seen many businesses come and go since he started working at Aunt Maude’s.
“We have always been in this location. Obviously the surrounding businesses and area looked a lot different,” Gould said.
Though many businesses have not been as fortunate as Aunt Maude’s, which was opened over forty years ago, many other restaurants and stores in Ames have been in business for a long time.
For example, the infamous Hickory Park Restaurant Co. opened its doors in 1970. The oldest flower shop in Ames, Everts Flowers Home & Gift, was established in 1922. H.L. Munn Lumber Co. was started by a Civil War veteran, Hiram Lester Munn, in 1891.
For over one hundred years, local businesses such as Aunt Maude’s have clearly played a large part in making Ames the great town it is today. If you wish to celebrate National Mom and Pop Business Owners Day, be sure to stop by one Ames' many local businesses.