chelsea johnsen

Fabulous People: Chelsea Johnsen

Chelsea Johnsen is the owner of Sisters in Cheese, a cheese-based catering business in Madrid that likes to share the spotlight with other local small business. “We’ve focused on working with other small businesses (Snus Hill Winery in Madrid, The Cornucopia in Ames, Sugar Grove Goods in Dallas Center, and more) to bring our product to more people and help lift each other up during a difficult time for small businesses, especially those in hospitality.” Learn about Chelsea Johnsen…

Hometown: Madrid, Iowa

First job: I worked in a cafeteria at a summer camp.

Favorite ways to spend your free time in IA: My husband and I like to take our dogs on hikes at local and state parks. We live close to the Ledges near Boone, so their trails are perfect. We also like to bike, spend time with our kids, we have a small “hobby farm” with a garden, ducks and chickens, and we love to check out local restaurants and bars. 

Your biggest accomplishment and why: With this business, I would say overcoming challenge after challenge this last year has put in front of my business. We’ve had to constantly pivot and adapt and expand and contract and even though it’s probably taken a couple of years off of my life, the result we ended up with was something totally different than I had ever imagined, and it was something I never would have come up with without the pressure. I mentioned it earlier, but I’m so thrilled to be working with other small businesses, similar and alike to mine. It feels a lot like the “main street” is returning and being even a small part of that is incredibly rewarding.

The biggest obstacle you overcame: Professionally, I think the pandemic, trying to constantly pivot and adapt restaurant operations just to keep our head above water. And I’m still in the middle of that, honestly. Personally, I’ve had anxiety for all of my life. As I’ve gotten older, it’s gotten better in some ways and worse in others. I finally accepted that I could benefit from therapy and it has helped a lot. If you can get therapy, do it! We could a benefit a whole bunch from it!

Someone who inspires you and why: As any entrepreneur or small business owner will tell you, it can be pretty lonely sometimes. You don’t have “coworkers” to complain to in the same capacity that you’re used to in a 9-to-5 job and trying to explain the feelings you have is really difficult. You’re “living your dreams,” so the difficulty of the day-to-day seems minimal, even though it’s extremely hard and the fact that it belongs to you makes it personal (even when it shouldn’t be). I’ve been so fortunate to find a community of women who own businesses, and we all work together to help each other in these times. They’re truly an inspiration to watch grow, as friends and as leaders in their communities. 

Advice to someone pursuing a career path in what you do: Start small. Don’t try to dive in too deep to quickly, but also don’t be afraid to take that leap of faith when it feels right. I have learned, over and over, to trust my gut and to not push for things that don’t feel natural. And don’t be afraid to screw up, change course or admit you were wrong about something. Mistakes are lessons, that’s all.

Favorite quote: “The best way out is always through.” —Robert Frost 

Something someone would be surprised to learn about you: I was the Boone County Fair Horse Queen in 2001! I also come off as a very outgoing person, but I’m pretty introverted and need alone time and space.

What makes someone fabulous: It sounds cliché, but kindness. Genuine interest in others. Being able to admit fault and grow. Listening to and trusting your inner voice. 

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