Five years after fulfilling her dream of opening her own small business, The Early Bird Coffee Cafe owner Brooke Fitzgerald is marking the milestone with a big change.

After closing temporarily during the recent flood, Early Bird reopened Nov. 15 in a new, bigger location, moving from the Town Center building to a space in the former Smulekoff’s furniture store.

“I love the location, I love the First Street corridor,” Fitzgerald said. “I love the elements of the building, the Smulekoff’s historical elements.”

She said as the five-year lease on the Town Center space came to an end, she knew she wanted to move to a location with a bigger kitchen and more seating. The Smulekoff’s building, owned by developer Steve Emerson, was the perfect fit.

Then the flood happened. When the instructions to evacuate came, she moved everything out of Town Center, and then decided it made little sense to move back in for only a few weeks.

“It was somewhat of a blessing. I could really put my focus on this new space, getting it up and running,” she said.

Still, being closed wasn’t easy. She credits understanding and flexibility from local bankers and vendors for helping her keep the business afloat in the period when no money was coming in.

“Otherwise, it would have been a different story,” she said.

She knows the closure was difficult for her four employees as well. She has applied for a flood relief grant, and said if she gets it she would like to pay them for their lost income.

Emerson’s team built out the new space, which included completely gutting it, uncovering brick walls, removing a drop ceiling and putting in new flooring, among other renovations. The space that is now a coffee shop once was Smulekoff’s television and entertainment center sales department. Behind one wall, contractors uncovered sliding metal garage-style doors, and new windows let in sunlight — a narrow hallway separates the coffee shop from the building’s exterior, but with the improvements, natural light still streams in.

Fitzgerald hopes the bigger kitchen will make catering easier, and she hopes the new space will be attractive for private events. The menu has mostly remained the same, with Intelligentsia coffee and a range of smoothies, sandwiches and salads. She has expanded the hours slightly, adding Saturday morning service.

Her brother Aaron Murphy, who owns Spruced Up Staging, did the interior design work, filling the space with comfortable chairs and bird-themed art.

“I have always tried to make the space cozy and so it feels like you’re sitting in the middle of your own living room,” she said.

Fitzgerald said she wants her cafe to be welcoming for everyone, from business people having meetings to people stopping in for morning coffee to friends getting together for a hot drink or a bite to eat.

“I love the vibes of coffee shops. They’re somewhere people go to meet people,” she said. “I love the vibrancy and feel of them. They’re the hub of a city.”


WHERE: 333 First St. SE, Cedar Rapids
WHEN: 6:30 a.m. to 4 p.m. Monday to Thursday, 6:30 a.m. to 2 p.m. Friday and 7 to 11 a.m. Saturday. Will be closed for Thanksgiving beginning at 11 a.m. Thursday and reopen Saturday.
DETAILS: (319) 261-4901,