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In the Kitchen with... Sheila Mauck
By Carol McGarvey | Photography by Ben Lochard
IN THE KITCHEN WITH... February/March 2018
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Sheila Mauck
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See for yourself:

Visit the newly remodeled Tea Room!

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She treasures a taste of Des Moines history from the old Younkers Tea Room.

Like many central Iowans, Sheila Mauck of Des Moines has been delighted to see the return of a tea room downtown. It’s no longer Younkers Tea Room, which was destroyed in a huge fire in 2014. It’s now The Tea Room in the Wilkins Building, the west half of the two buildings that comprised the Younkers site. The Wilkins Building was spared much of the damage of the second building, which had to be demolished following the fire.

Sheila grew up in Des Moines. “I remember going to visit Santa Claus in the decorated windows of Younkers. I remember taking the bus downtown, where my mother worked, so we could do back-to-school shopping at Younkers and eat in the Tea Room, which always included our favorites, chicken salad and sticky rolls. Later we took our three daughters there to have breakfast with Santa.”

She recalls that her girls knew the Santa at Younkers was the real Santa because he came to them and asked, “How is your Grandpa Joe?” If Santa knew their grandfather, he must be the real deal! Santa was played by John Busbee, an actor and radio host in Des Moines, and he did indeed know their grandfather.

Recipes from the Younkers collection

New event center

The new space is an event center, a classic spot for receptions, parties, meetings, and gala events, such as the recent New Year’s at the Tea Room, Great Gatsby Style. There’s a catering kitchen, and groups are invited to bring in their own caterers. That means the Younkers Tea Room’s popular rarebit burgers and figgy pudding at Christmas likely won’t be standard fare.

The devastating fire did away with much of the ornate decor, which has been replaced with clean lines and a minimalist vibe. Sheila, a Meredith Corporation copy editor who works on Better Homes & Gardens and food newsstand magazine titles, and her husband, Kent, have attended an event there. “They re-created some of the details, such as balconies and columns,” she says. “It’s a cleaner, streamlined design. The windows and lighting are stunning.”

Kent, a real estate redeveloper, has a love for old buildings, so he, too, appreciates the spot’s reincarnation. “They did a beautiful job of bringing it back. It’s a lovely amenity to have downtown,” he says.

A must-attend sale

Recipes from the Younkers collection

“When I heard there would be a sale of Younkers artifacts, I knew I had to get there,” Sheila explains. (The sale was several days in May 2007.) “I was freelancing at the time, so I didn’t have to be to work at 8 a.m. I dropped off the girls at school at 7:30. I decided if there was a line around the block to get in, I would just go home.”

Lo and behold, only two women were in line, so Sheila parked and took her spot behind them. Her first find was the Electric Stairs sign. It was at the top of the escalator on the first floor. There was no price tag on it, so she asked the woman who was running the sale. She said it would be $100, which Sheila figured was a bargain.

As it turned out, when she checked out at the register, the husband of the woman running the sale said $100 was too much, so Sheila got it for $50. Kent came to pick up the large sign, which was too big for Sheila’s vehicle. “As I carried it out of the store, people ran up to me, asking and begging me to sell the sign to them. They were offering cash and business cards so I could call them.”

The sign now occupies a prime spot in the Maucks’ kitchen seating area, high up over a bank of windows. The surprise to anyone who remembers the sign, which measures about 8 feet long, is that it’s painted wood, not shiny metal as it appeared high over the escalator. “I love having it,” Sheila says. “It’s fun to have that part of history in our home. Someday we’ll likely donate it to a museum so others can remember it, too.”

Treasured recipes

Electric Stairs sign from Younkers

Another of Sheila’s finds is a true treasure: a metal recipe file and four loose-leaf large-quantity recipe binders for Cakes, Cookies, Muffins, and Breads, respectively. All of the recipes are for large-quantity cooking, often calling for an ingredient such as 10 pounds of sugar.

The red binders are spattered and dog-eared and still sticky from years of use. The metal file contains recipe cards, some handwritten and some typed, for items featuring cod, perch, and grilled Roquefort cheese, “a cut above processed cheese,” Sheila points out.

Among the recipes are Maddie Glazer’s Casserole, honoring the late local philanthropist, and a number of aspics, which are clear, savory, jelly-style molded salads made from fish or meat stock and gelatin. One recipe is for Royal Aspic Salmon Salad. Sheila doesn’t recall what she paid for the recipe collections.

“I love that the recipes are safe and secure. I wish I could use them, but they are all for large-quantity cooking,” Sheila says.

At the time of the sale, Sheila talked with Dennis Johnson, formerly of Des Moines and a manager at Palmer’s Deli. “Dennis used to work at the Metropolis on the lower level of Younkers, so he knew right where to go to get the recipes from that part of the store. They were in the exact same spot where they always were.”

Sheila associates good memories with the downtown Younkers. As the red recipe binders emblazoned with the old store slogan promise on their covers, “Younkers. Satisfaction Always.”

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