Behind the names of three Vermillion businesses are the owners of Bru2, Dakota Brickhouse and Café Brulé.
James Waters, otherwise known as ‘Chef Jim,’ and Monica Iverson, who manages ‘Cakes by Monica,’ are prominent business owners in the Vermillion community.
Iverson said that it’s interesting to bring different restaurant opportunities to Vermillion.
“We’re very proud of the restaurants that we’ve created and brought to Vermillion,” Iverson said. “We both felt as locals that we were missing something that offered what we offer and the way that Jim prepares things and my desserts, we thought it would be wonderful to bring something different like that in.”
2010 is when the co-business owners started renovating and remodeling what is currently Café Brulé, and in 2011 they opened the doors for business.
Waters said the idea for Bru2 came in a conversation between First Dakota National Bank; Bru2 opened in April 2017.
Iverson said that she wanted to work with Waters to try and bring back the downtown area through their third business, Dakota Brick House.
“What we love mostly about the downtown area is we’ve been from this area and we remember 20 to 30 years ago when (downtown) was vibrant and there were businesses and everything was great,” Iverson said. “And then all the sudden we lived here through the time where the downtown was kind of not a big thing anymore… then we decided to do what we can to try and bring back downtown.”
Competition among the three businesses was an original concern, however, Iverson said unique menus and good service helps them succeed.
Waters said that he couldn’t do his job without a great staff.
“We couldn’t do anything we do without our staff. We’ve got some great general managers and assistant managers… I couldn’t do it without them,” Waters said.
Luke Speers, a junior fine arts major, has been working at Café Brulé since September and enjoys the different visions that Iverson and Waters have for their businesses.
“From my experience working at Café Brulé, Jim and Monica sometimes have different visions and ideas but they usually find ways to work together and get stuff done,” Speers said. “With the three businesses they run, they do offer quite a bit of options for Vermillion, from beer and burgers at Brick House, to cake and coffee at Brulé and Bru2. I think they’re able to bring good food and enjoyable environments to Vermillion.”
Hannah Lambertz, a USD alumna, worked at Café Brulé for about three years and at Dakota Brick House briefly while she was a student at USD.
Lambertz said that she enjoyed the different perspective that Waters and Iverson both offered.
“Jim and Monica are such opposites, but when working together, they compliment each other so well,” Lambertz said. “They are so invested in keeping businesses in the community local and are all about giving back to that community. Depending on the restaurant, the vibe is different, Brick House has a lot more low key vibe, but I used to do my homework at Brulé and did my relaxing at Brick.”
In 1994, Iverson opened “A Piece of Cake” in Vermillion. The cake business grew in 2000, when she agreed to accept commissioned cake orders by partnering with Jones’ Food Center. She then became known locally as ‘the cake lady’ and changed the business name to ‘Cakes by Monica.’
Iverson said this will be the last year ‘Cakes by Monica’ serves wedding cakes, but she will continue to make specialty cakes and desserts.
“We are doing all the specialty desserts here we do from scratch and then my business I started 25 years ago, honestly I’ve had that going on for a long time,” Iverson said. “I did about 100 weddings a year and that includes last year.”
A background in food
Waters has always been surrounded by cooks. His mother, Billy, remains a mentor to him. Waters learned to cook from a young age in his family’s restaurant, the “Big 10-4 Truck Stop” near Sioux Falls.
A couple years later, Water’s father, Paul, moved to Arkansas to open “Our Place.” Waters stayed with his mother where he worked as a night manager, baker and prep-cook at multiple locations.
He soon moved to Vermillion in the ’80s and became assistant director of food services for the USD food service program. While spending time at the university, Waters earned his certificate in management at the University of Nebraska-Omaha.
Waters said that people in the community know and respect his hard work.
“I like to play with food and it comes out good,” Waters said. “People respect that and they know I’m a hard worker and I did a lot of catering in the past.”
Iverson is an alumna from USD with a masters degree in secondary education. She loved baking and traveling at a young age. Iverson said her mother, Bonny, serves as an important mentor to her. Her mother held the title of ‘cake lady’ in the family.
Iverson moved to Vermillion to study at USD in the late ’80s. While in school, Iverson studied abroad for a year in France, which is where she gained a lot of her cooking inspiration.
“I lived above a bakery, and I just became a regular and wanted to learn everything they did and eat everything that they made,” Iverson said. “That definitely inspired me when we were looking to open something, and I wanted to bring some of the European style foods.”
With Iverson and Waters being co-business owners, Iverson said that this can be seen as a sibling rivalry.
“We kind of fight like brother and sister. We don’t hold grudges, we get over it and we work through it and it hasn’t always been easy, and I remember when we first started people told us you should never have a business with a friend because it’s going to not go well,” Iverson said. “(Jim) was someone that was honest and (who) I could trust.”
Waters said that he and Iverson are meant to work together.
“I knew she was passionate and as crazy as I am and so I knew she would work just as hard as I did,” Waters said.
Iverson said that the community of Vermillion is one that will always be home to her.
“I came from a bigger place,” Iverson said. “I went to high school in Rapid City but we moved around a lot (to) California, Ohio… I never wanted to stay in Vermillion, I thought it was too small. I needed to get out. But the community is so warm and wonderful, accepting.”
Waters said that he felt there was no need to go anywhere else.
“I think I fell in love with it right away,” Waters said. “I came here in ‘85, I was young I was like this is a bunch of people doing what I like to do in what I want to do and so I didn’t have a desire to go anywhere else.”