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From Khartoum to DSM: Why I Decided to Kum & Stay in Iowa

Ariel Rubin in DSM USA

August 14, 2019

“I would seriously live here.”

This is what I told my incredulous friends on a hot August day five years ago as we emerged from The Locust Tap in the Historic East Village in Downtown Des Moines (DSM). We were in town for the weekend from New York City visiting a DSM native who was showing us around for his 30th birthday. We’d hit all his favorite spots: kayaking on the Raccoon River followed by karaoke at the Booneville Bar & Grill, drinks at Carl’s Place, and some of the most daunting batter-encrusted pork tenderloin sandwiches I’d ever attempted to eat in one sitting.

My friends mostly rolled their eyes and scoffed “Sure, sure.” To be fair, I had the tendency back then to talk about moving just about anywhere. Having just returned to the U.S. after a three-year stint in Khartoum, Sudan where I worked for the United Nations, was moving to Iowa really so outlandish?

They were right, for the time being. Instead of DSM, I moved to Istanbul, Turkey, where I spent another two years doing digital communications for the UN. I then switched gears and moved to Switzerland to lead digital content for the International Committee of the Red Cross.

But then, like that voice in cornfields asking about a ballpark, Iowa beckoned once more. That same friend, now five years older, told me about a job opening in my field with major employer Kum & Go at their DSM headquarters, an opportunity that seemed too exciting to ignore. So I applied, and the next thing I knew I was driving down Ingersoll, getting two speeding tickets in as many days (30 mph! How was I to know?), marveling at how cool the old Ingersoll theater must’ve been back in its heyday and wondering what it would take to get it back there.

My obsession on Ingersoll. How can we get this building restored to its former glory?

Here’s the thing that no one tells you before you move to DSM. If you like impeccable 1950’s architecture, frozen-in-time Italian supper clubs and the cutest, friendliest neighborhoods still somehow here in the 21st century, DSM is your place. If there’s a better day than scouring for gems at the Brass Armadillo Antique Mall, hitting the Chicken Spiedini at Tursi’s Latin King and closing down the night while the Soul Searchers jam out at the Greenwood Lounge, I have yet to find it. (Full disclosure I have yet to eat at Noah’s Ark or Jesse’s Embers. It’s coming!)

My good-natured Italian-American wife rolls her eyes, but I know she’s digging the Graziano Brothers sausage and bocce courts over at Tumea & Sons as much as I am. Our daughter is busy downing impossibly delicious farm-fresh milk and gaping at snakes and turtles at the rad Science Center of Iowa in Downtown DSM. And while I’m namedropping, can we talk about the architecture in this town? Shameless plug for the Renzo Piano-designed stunner at 1459 Grand Avenue — from the groovy art deco Val Air Ballroom in West Des Moines to the I.M. Pei Building at the Des Moines Art Center to the heady new brutalism of Mies van der Rohe’s Meredith Hall at Drake University. This town is a treasure trove.

And that’s the thing about DSM I really appreciate. There’s an evocative history permeating the city that’s sort of been kept secret from the rest of the country. At the same time, there’s this incredible vibrancy from a young, diverse cohort of emerging artists and creatives. Check out @POCIowaMovement 515 and Yellow Door DSM to name just a few. This powerful interplay between old and new has fomented one of the most compelling young art scenes I’ve seen in a long time. It’s exciting and, to me, totally unexpected.

I think we’ll stay a while.

Are you interested in moving to Greater Des Moines (DSM)? Relocation Packets offer information on everything from neighborhoods to shopping, parks and local attractions. Or, kick start your career by checking out the DSM USA Career Center. It has over 10,000 jobs listed!

Named as the #1 Metro with the Most Community Pride by Gallup, Greater Des Moines (DSM) is the fastest growing metro in the Midwest. Learn more about what it’s like to live here.