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Cassandra Spence's cooking classes at the Des Moines Social Club used to average more than 20 students. 

But two months after officials announced plans to turn the social club's headquarters into a year-round market, attendance has plummeted. 

Her Dim Sum & Then Some cooking class this month had just two students sign up. 

"I've lost a lot of customers," said Spence, the owner of DSM Culinary. "Generally, that class will fill up a month ahead of time. I didn't think it would be this different."

More: New images of imagined public market at the Des Moines Social Club released

The Des Moines Social Club was founded in 2008 by Zack Mannheimer to support artists and promote the area's art scene. It moved in 2014 to the former Des Moines firehouse at 900 Mulberry St.

The 30,000-square-foot venue features an art gallery, recording studio, performance art hall, restaurant and coffee shop. It's hosted hundreds of community classes each month on topics such as dancing, cooking and writing.

But the social club, which relied on ticket sales to programs and donations, struggled financially.

In September, a group of Des Moines business and civic leaders announced plans to take the club in a new direction. A new 16-member board is exploring the feasibility of opening the indoor market.

Backers envision owner-operated shops or vendor areas that would include fresh produce and other homemade goods similar to those found at the Downtown Farmers Market.

The Project for Public Spaces — a nonprofit planning, design and educational organization dedicated to helping people create and sustain public spaces — was in Des Moines last week for a site visit.

Two existing businesses inside the social club building — the Latin restaurant Malo and Scenic Route Bakery — would serve as anchors to the proposed market.

Organizers previously said they want to continue offering community classes and renting out the events space to artists. 

Spence said she wants to continue holding classes in the building's culinary loft.

"They've been very bad at communicating," Spence said. "And it's frustrating for everybody. I just wish someone would help a little better."

The Iowa native moved back to Des Moines after living in New York City for eight years to pursue her culinary career. She began teaching hands-on cooking classes at the social club after graduating from the Iowa Culinary Institute in 2015.

Her classes have covered cuisines such as Sichuan, dim sum and Thai. She launched her own business, DSM Culinary, in September.

Open for business

There are several businesses that operate out of the Des Moines Social Club, 900 Mulberry St.

Malo

This Latin-American restaurant opened in 2014 and is part of the Orchestrate Hospitality group. It was recently renovated and offers lunch, brunch and dinner menus. 

Scenic Route Bakery

The newest location of the popular East Village coffeehouse and bakery had its grand opening one month ago on the social club's first floor. A quiet seating area is located adjacent to the bakery case.

DSM Culinary

Chef Cassandra Spence offers hands-on cooking classes on the third floor of the social club.

Other businesses there include: Iowa Circus ArtsRun DSM (through November), Two Rivers ChurchSouth Central Iowa Narcotics Anonymous and Viaduct Gallery (open daily).

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Read or Share this story: https://www.desmoinesregister.com/story/entertainment/dining/2019/11/15/des-moines-social-club-business-struggles-maintain-clients/2523153001/