Des Moines Parent Spotlight: Ally Billhorn of Ally’s Sweets and Savory Eats
If you’re in central Iowa, you may have seen Ally Billhorn before on one of WHO 13’s segments of Hello Iowa. Or, perhaps you’re an avid follower of her blog, where she shares her recipes for mouthwatering meals and treats. Either way, it doesn’t take much to realize how talented she is. Perhaps best of all, Ally creates recipes that even your kids can get behind.
Here’s what Ally says of them: “Over the years people have loved my recipes because I make mostly Midwestern comfort food. It’s the food they grew up on, with some twists to make those dishes a bit more hip. I always say my recipes are not complicated. I do not want my readers frantically searching multiple stores for that one ingredient. All of my recipes are simple, easy, and fun.”
Des Moines Parent connected with Ally to learn more.
Give us a little background on yourself.
I’m a born and bred Iowan, and I love being a Midwesterner. I grew up in Toledo, Iowa, and later graduated from the University of Northern Iowa with a degree in media and journalism. For many years I worked in marketing jobs throughout central and eastern Iowa, which I loved!
After getting married and finally settling, we moved to Wilton, Iowa, right before our first child was born. We’ve been here ever since! We now have three kids: Drake (13), Taylor (11), and Finley (8). Needless to say, we are incredibly busy with their school activities. All of them are in multiple sports, so a lot of our free time is spent on a ball diamond, field, or gym. We recently built a new home and moved in last spring. After many years of squeezing into a 900-square-foot home, we finally have the space we saved for, which includes the kitchen of my dreams.
Could you give us an overview of your business and why you started it?
I started my food blog back in 2009 (one of the original OG bloggers). I had a 3-month-old baby at home, and since we have just moved to a new community, I was staying home with the baby and getting us settled. After a few months, I needed an outlet and had recently read of a gal in Chicago writing a food blog, which I had never heard of.
Writing had always come easy to me. In college, my emphasis was in print media, so I knew this could be something fun. I thought about it for one day and published my first blog post the next day! In the beginning, it was just a fun hobby – only my friends read it and responded. My photography was awful. Back then social media wasn’t much of a thing and most of us bloggers didn’t know how to make the blog look “pretty” to invite more readers in – we were just doing our own thing.
After a couple of years, my blog grew, and I soon had people all over the world following it. I soon realized that this could be much more if I put more time into it. So, I invested in some graphic design and better photography and even enhanced my flow of writing. Companies and brands started to reach out about working for them, and I dabbled in that while going back to work full-time and then eventually part-time after our second child was born. I continued this path – working out of the home some and on the blog – right up until our third child was born in 2014. At that point, I stayed home full time with the kids and dove into my blog even more. At this point, it had become a business for me bringing in income for our family. It was the best of both worlds: staying home with the kids and having a creative outlet for my blogging work.
What’s your favorite part of being a small business owner?
Being my own boss! I can make my own decisions and do what is right for me. If I need help, I simply reach out to my graphic designer or my blog maintenance partner, both of whom I pay on a monthly basis to “keep an eye on things” and also help me with larger projects. In the end, I am mainly a one-woman show, but I have a ton of friends in the industry who know more than me and are always around to lend a helping hand.
Being able to work with brands I admire is the greatest joy. These are companies that I already love and we have formed a great working partnership: Cookies BBQ Sauce & Seasonings, Iowa Beef Council, Travel Iowa, Fareway Stores and so many more. They are always open to my recipe creations, and it makes my job extremely fun! I’ve been fortunate to have been invited on many trips over the past few years. Often the companies I work with will offer a “behind the scenes” tour of their facilities, which is always nice!
How do you juggle your parenting and work responsibilities?
Well, I don’t know if I juggle it all “correctly,” but I try my best! Being a working mom is hard, whether you are in the home or in an office. Either way, we are working two full-time jobs. I try and block off sections of my time to work while at home, which is much easier during the school year as I have a quiet house. In the summer, I’ve learned to be happy with a couple of hours a day of time to grind out work. The rest of the time is for the kids. Often, I’ll take time at night after they are in bed to get on my phone and reply to messages, update photos, and schedule items on social media. My husband also helps when I need it. If he knows I’m under a deadline, he’s great at getting the kiddos out of the house for an hour so I can complete a task.
I know you mentioned you live in Eastern Iowa now, but do you get back to the Des Moines metro often? If so, what are some of your favorite things to do while here?
We are in Eastern Iowa, and we love it here, but we did at one point before kids live in the Des Moines metro and enjoyed it as well. I am often back in Des Moines a few times a year to do work events, whether it’s taping segments at Hello Iowa/WHO-TV or meeting with some of my clients at their headquarters. I love short trips there to see people, eat at good restaurants and visit places we don’t have here. One of my favorite things to do in Des Moines when the time allows is to visit the Farmer’s Market downtown in the summer. I could browse the streets all morning! I’d rather shop food vendors all day than visit a mall any day
What’s your ideal date night or day out?
When the time allows, I love a full day of adult fun. A variety of things could include hitting up a farmer’s market, lunch at a new brewery, golfing, reading a good book by the water, an outdoor walk on a neat trail, or drinks and dinner at a hip new restaurant. We are also big Iowa Hawkeye fans, so if there is a football game, we love to tailgate with friends and in the winter also enjoy hitting up a basketball game.
What’s your number one parenting tip?
I try to be chill about most things, but also strict about what matters. Let your kids know what’s important in life: being respectful, being kind, following the rules, but also having fun.