A Conversation with Leslie Poyzer

Who else can claim they have memories of spending their Saturday mornings watching cooking shows while folding the family’s laundry? When I was a kid, I was busy chowing down on Cinnamon Life and watching Spiderman do battle with the Green Goblin....

Leslie is a conglomerate of ideas and passions. There's a feisty spark in her eyes and a robust energy she brings into any room she walks into it. Plus, I've found that her input on any given conversation is always illuminating. We sat down recently to talk about her creative work and why Des Moines' culinary scene leaves much to be desired.

{Special thanks to the Wedding Format for the pictures they graciously provided}


Tell me a little about yourself and what you do at Meredith Corporation? 

My job title with them is designer/producer/stylist. I work for a quarterly publication called Do It Yourself and help conceptualize projects and then create sets for the relevant stories. I often go shopping around Des Moines to places like HomeGood or thrift stores looking for props for different projects. 

In addition to Meredith, I also bake cakes for birthdays and baby showers. My interested in cake-baking was sparked after baking one for a friend's wedding. Then when I moved back to Iowa, my friends started hiring me to bake cakes for them because of the pictures they'd seen on Instagram. 

How did you come to work for Meredith?

I’ve kind of had a plethora of schooling. I started out at Faith Baptist for my freshmen year and then I went onto DMACC. Afterwards, I got my Associates in fashion merchandising and marketing. I knew I wanted to get my B.A. in Interior Design, so I went to Chicago to attend the Illinois Institute of Art. In total I was in school for six years.

It looks like it’s paying off for you!

Oh, its definitely paid off! I feel like so many people go to school and get a degree in a field that they don’t end working in. Everything I did in school has led me to become who I am now. 

I know you lived in Brooklyn for a while. How did you end up there and what was it like?

While I was working here in Des Moines as a kitchen and bath designer, I met a gal and we decided to start a business together where we sold office accessories and did some screen-printing, as well. We sold on Etsy and also traveled to different craft fairs - such as Renegade in cities like Chicago, Brooklyn, and Austin. 

Through traveling the craft fair circuit, I was able to meet a lot of fellow makers. When I lost my job at the kitchen and bath store I had been working at, I was searching for something to do. I had made friends with  people who ran a screen-printing business in Brooklyn and they needed help with a large wholesale order. Since I didn’t have a full-time job here, I went to Brooklyn for a month and helped them with that order. After a month, they asked me if I interested in a full-time job there and I said yes.

I remember talking to my mom about it and saying,“I’d move here for the food!” Basically that’s what I ended up doing. There’s such diversity there when it comes to food. It's all just so good. 

My mom was telling me how Des Moines was recently named one of the “best cities for foodies” and I thought it was so weird - it's just not up-to-par. We do have a good farmer’s market, but it can get a little too crazy if you’re just wanting to get fresh produce. I feel like so many people just go down there to show off their dogs.

What would you say is your main reason for believing that Des Moines isn't a good city for foodies? 

My main problem is that the menus don’t change here! I’ll go to a restaurant that I haven’t been to in five years and the menu is still the same. Although, Eatery A has grown on me! I went there for their happy hour and ordered the pizza with the lamb gyro and it was delicious. 

I also love, love Alba! If you go on Monday nights and sit in the bar, they have a specialty hamburger menu and it’s $5 for a hamburger and fries. Plus, they have a mixed drink for $5. So it’s a great deal! When I first found out about it, I was thinking why haven’t I been coming here every Monday?! 

I’ve become more aware of connections between Iowa and New York - from Todd Snyder to Mast Brothers. Why do you think Midwesterner's are drawn to places like New York City?

In general, I think it’s about the diversity of New York. There’s a lot of opportunity there and there’s a lot going on. In a way, it’s also a little bit of a taste of Europe. There isn’t a lot of space, so you have to live small. Your apartment is small, your kitchen is small, and your closest is non-existent. 

Would you say that New York City lived up to your expectations?

I don’t know what I was expecting other than it being a new adventure.

It was a little bit harder than I thought, but it wasn’t nearly as hard as some people made it out to be either. Some people acted like it was going to be impossible to adapt, but I was willing to change in order to live there. I remember thinking, “I’m here and I’m ready to become a New Yorker!”

After leaving Brooklyn, were you excited to return home to Iowa?

I didn’t want to move back because I was scared I’d go back to my “Iowan ways”. I’m embarrassed to say this, but a lot of it had to do with fashion. Fashion is not nearly as good here. I feel like in the Midwest, we’re not as concerned about appearances. 

Also, I was moving back here without a full-time job, so I was really starting over again. In order to get bills paid off, I lived with my parents for a year. Then work slowly began to come in and I started to get busier and busier. Now I live just down the street in a house in the Drakerhood.

Speaking of your house: explain the significance of your Instagram hashtag #radiantorchidhouse.

Are you familiar with Pantone colors? The color of the year for 2014 is Radiant Orchid - it’s this orchid, pink color. When I purchased my current house, the exterior was painted a similar color. It’s not as bright as Radiant Orchid, but it’s in that same family of color. 

Then I was reading Pantone’s description about what the color was meant to evoke (creativity, joy, spirit) and it was describing me - it was Leslie. (laughing)

Based on your Instagram, you seem to really love food. What’s your favorite place in Des Moines for a good meal?

Right now, it’s the Hole in the Wall. It’s a part of the Gas Lamp - you just go up to the window and order from the sidewalk. It’s run by a fellow foodie and in the morning, he’ll gather fresh food and then make his menu for the day. It’s a simple menu, but you don’t really need a long list, you just need a few good things. (Editor's note: The Hole in the Wall has closed, but the same chef now works over at Reed's Hollow in Beaverdale.)

There’s also this really good pizza place called Taste of New York. The family who owns it just moved from Brooklyn this summer, so it’s a true New York pizza. 

You and your brother, Dave, are both very creative individuals. What contributed to you both being that way?

Both of our parents are really creative, so we say that maybe we were born with it. But my parents were also really good about letting us explore our creative sides. I didn’t really watch Saturday morning cartoons and if I wanted to watch TV on Saturday mornings, my mom said it had to be PBS and I had to be folding laundry. So I grew up watching Julia Child instead of cartoons; that may have influenced by foodiness.

Growing up we were also home-schooled and my mom let me to do as much creative school work as I wanted. For Home Economics, she let me watch Martha Stewart and we’d call it good! I’m not a morning person, but every morning at nine o'clock, I was up for Martha. (Laughing)

When do you think Des Moines excels at as a city? 

I think Des Moines is really good at fostering creative people. Actually Brooklyn and Des Moines are similar in that way. It’s a lot easier to be an entrepreneur here because, well, cost of living is so much less and we have so many industries that really push people to try new things. 

Also, everyone here is very open to collaboration. In New York, it’s so competitive and no one wants to share their techniques or how they’re producing things. Here in Iowa, people are very open about it and willing to help. I think Des Moines has that going for it.

Thanks for sitting down to talk with me, Leslie. I’m glad you’ve found your way back Iowa! I hope you’re able to thrive here just as much as you did in Brooklyn.

So far, so good!