Workforce Spotlight: Ryan Larson

A 2003 Roland-Story graduate is at home in one of Nevada’s newest business locations.

Ryan Larson, who works as the business manager for Farmhouse Catering, Inc., can often be found inside Copper Spaces, a fully separate LLC, that is linked to Farmhouse Catering’s other business units: Gatherings, FarmGrounds, and Cozy Home & Table.

“I started with Farmhouse Catering in May of 2021,” Ryan said. “I was hired on as the Copper Spaces Project Manager when I started. Once we opened in September of 2022, I moved into the business manager role.”

Larson describes the planning and project management for Copper Spaces as a “fun ride.” It included budgeting, timeline and stakeholder management. “I worked with City staff on building requirements and inspections. I did lots of the design work – building and room layout, color and textures, room use, lighting, cabinet systems… As all of that was moving, I was initiating brand rollout, social media planning, business focus/offerings, and price points. I built our website and created promo materials.” And, he gave lots of tours.

All of this may sound like a lot, but Ryan admits that he is built for all of this. He loves “systems” and loves helping systems work together and work efficiently. “Small business is all about systems, so that has been super fun.”

To better understand Ryan and his unique skillset, one must look to his background. He was born and raised on a farm north of Story City, and during his years as a Roland-Story “Norseman,” Ryan said he forced himself to work at new places every year to learn and grow. He first worked at Harlan’s Grocery Store, next at the Lone Tree Nursery, and then came a highlight and “true gift” – a job at Pella Windows as part of the tech department, made possible through the school to work program.

Other jobs included working for the Story City Chamber on website development and the carousel, working at Little Flock Daycare, tech support for the Ames School District, and co-owning a DJ business. He DJ’d more than 30 events before graduating from high school.

He was also active in his high school, serving as an officer for Key Club, as a tech and set/crew coordinator and lead for the fall plays and spring musicals, and taking part in choir, speech, drama, FFA, and the academic decathlon. Ryan also served on the Story City Chamber Board while he was in high school, and was the acting vice president of the chamber for one year.
He attended Iowa State University, focusing on Child, Adult & Family Services (social work). “I love caring for kids,” he admits, but he ended up never entering social work as a career, because he didn’t believe he could handle the emotional demand.

After finishing at ISU, he took a temp job with Syngenta just outside of Nevada, still pursuing other options for working with kids, while also taking in everything he could learn at Syngenta. Eventually, a full-time position opened at Syngenta, and he worked there 14 years, until starting work at Copper Spaces.
The time with Syngenta was extremely valuable for Ryan. The company sponsored his education to earn his Master’s in Business Administration (MBA) from MSU. “This degree clearly aligns with my work today,” he said.

He became a scientist in soybean genetics with Syngenta and got to travel the world, visiting sites across several continents. “I’ve formed some of my fondest memories in life,” Ryan said. “I owe a great deal to my soy team at Syngenta. They truly believed in me and drew out my best.”

Ryan admits his background is “pretty diverse,” and his interest in and desire to see things in systems is also unique. “I don’t meet many other people that think the way I do. Praise God for that,” he noted. “How to create and modify systems to be sustainable, efficient, and effective for desired output, that is my primary focus and joy. I am always observing the environment around me, and I synthesize ideas together to create design or business model ideas… I am always scanning and sorting ideas in my mind. Always.”

With Farmhouse Catering, Inc., Ryan said he has joined an incredible, dedicated team. “There are so many years of service industry experience across our team… They give often of nights and weekends to make sure our events, caters, and shops host clients and customers with quality and excellence. Hospitality is our jam, and this team makes it happen every day.”
When it comes to Copper Spaces, Ryan has received a lot of positive feedback on Nevada’s new co-working, upper story space on main street. “The most recurring feedback we get is that the aesthetics and feel of the space is outstanding and uncommon for a smaller Iowa town. A precise comment I’ve heard repeatedly is that ‘I feel like I just walked into a space in the Pacific Northwest.’ It is quite possibly the best compliment I am able to receive.”

Ryan said they gave great attention to design and details – textures, lighting, color, decor… — and the feedback received for this effort has been “humbling and deeply affirming.”
Copper Spaces’ price point also seems to shock many people. “We are very affordable and flexible in meeting people’s needs,” he said.

When it comes to working in Nevada and in Nevada’s Main Street District, Ryan has been pleasantly surprised. “You think ‘small town’ and imagine it to be a bit slow. But, people are constantly moving and connecting with others. Not only that, this town and especially main street has a solid group of super-dedicated volunteers and drivers of community progress. We are not afraid of change, of trying new things, of growth, of including the new person in town. That truly is something to be proud of and grateful for.”

It also has this longtime Norseman, who is grateful and proud of where he was raised, admitting something else. “I’m warming up to the Cubs.”

A few more interesting notes about Ryan Larson:
What is a great book you’ve read recently? I just finished reading the book ‘The Velvet Rage’ by Alan Downs. It is written by a psychologist and discusses topics around pain/shame/trauma that many gay men experience while growing up in our heteronormative society. While raw in nature, the book’s aim is to reveal and name so that the gay person can grow to live a productive, healthy life. It is a decidedly honest, yet deeply hopeful book.

What place have you visited that you loved so much you want to go back and visit again? Generally, Europe — I return every three years and most of my friends wonder why I haven’t moved there yet. I’ve spent around two years of my life in Europe, and have a life goal of visiting all European countries. I’ve been to 26 European countries so far, and hope to add four more this summer and around 18 more in coming years.
More specifically, the Czech Republic (now called Czechia). I studied there and have visited six times. I keep going back, and that’s my ‘home away from home.’

What are your favorite pastimes/hobbies outside of work?
• travel (a bit obvious after above comments) – I was able to complete my goal of visiting all 50 states last year.
• watching eclectic and artistic foreign films
• eating and/or making foreign food (focus on middle eastern recipes)
• reading books focusing on the human experience/psychology/spirituality
• hosting people in my home
• working on my home (past 10 years). I have redone most things, including most recently siding, windows, soffit/fascia, and front/back decks.
• camping/hiking/canoeing/skiing – I’ve been to boundary waters six times and last summer hiked 80 miles in the Shenandoah National Park. Another life goal of visiting all US National Parks.
• League Volleyball
• Learning and Self-development – I have the training necessary to be a pastor in the Vineyard movement (two-year program). I’m also a trained Spiritual Director (two-year program). I have my PMP Certification (Project Management Professional). I seem to not be able to sit still very well.

Who are the members of your family? I have roommates (of about 10 years), and they are my ‘family’ as society would define it. We host social functions together, have game nights, show up to each other’s events and family functions, encourage one another when needing support, laugh together, annoy each other from time to time, share the bills and always challenge each other to grow and live life to the fullest. They are my cheerleaders and friends. My family. A large part of what keeps me going each day.

What is your favorite holiday of the year and why? I’m not super into tradition or holidays…. If I was forced to pick, Halloween is my favorite. As a kid, I just loved the mystery and fun of it all. The weather is perfect, leaves are changing, air is crisp. I still watch Hocus Pocus every Halloween. My mom (my first and forever cheerleader) let me decorate the house as a kid, and I put a lot of effort into that!

–Written by Marlys Barker, City of Nevada