Derek Jensen

Jami Strazzo

Derek Jensen
Jami Strazzo

Jami knew she wanted to start a lettering business for a long time before actually starting it.

Take us back to you as a kid.

Imagine huge bangs, pink plastic glasses, and a deep love for New Kids on the Block – I was a definite child of the 80s! ; ) While my look may have changed, the things that I loved to do as a kid are still the same. I have always loved spending time outdoors, I have always loved learning how to do new things, and I have always loved being creative.

What's keeping you busy?

I feel like most days I’m running around like a crazy person – ha! ; ) 

I am a mom to three kids and I really enjoy being involved in their lives, watching them play sports, going for bike rides, and hanging out as a family.  I’m also very involved in my church, remodeling our home, and then of course making signs and coming up with new designs for Lakeside.

Walk us through the days leading up to starting your own thing?

I knew I wanted to start a lettering business for a long time before I actually started, I just wasn’t exactly sure what it was going to look like.  I was waiting until my youngest started kindergarten to really get going, but I thought of my business name “Lakeside Lettering Co.” about a year before while pumping gas at a Casey’s in Ankeny.  I had a friend who had been a vendor at the Santa’s North Pole Craft Fair in Ankeny and she convinced myself and another friend to give it a try! I started Lakeside with a friend and the signs we made for that craft fair were a hit!! Lakeside sold out in about 2.5 hours! The response was so amazing that the business just grew organically after that.  

How do you focus on the work you love doing? Walk us through a good day.

I start the day by getting my kids off to school and then going to work out.  I didn’t used to make time to exercise in the morning, but if I take the time to work out I have a lot more energy for the day and it gets my creative juices flowing.  I have a schedule for the business – Mondays I break down boards, Tuesdays I sand and stain, Wednesdays I paint, etc.  so I get going on my schedule for the day.  Around 2:30 I stop working to pick my kids up from school and then spend time doing the mom stuff until they go to bed.  Around 9:00 when they are all asleep I usually sneak back out to the garage and work for another hour or two.  

"a good design mixed with the right font can really make a quote or saying be more meaningful."

What have been the challenges? Who and what has helped?

Lakeside Lettering is coming up on its one-year anniversary and the biggest thing I had to figure out this year was finding a work/ home life balance. Lakeside started right around the holidays and we took on way too many orders before Christmas! It was insane at times and I was barely sleeping trying to get everything done in time.  The work/mom life balance also got hard over the summer because my kids were home all day and I couldn’t work as much as I wanted to.  I ended up hiring this great girl to help me prep boards though and it was a game changer.  It is never a bad idea to have extra help!

Talk to us about what has changed from when you first started lettering to now.

A few years ago, I took a calligraphy class and I was hooked right away!! I would sit for hours at night and just practice over and over.  I love how different fonts express different “emotions” and how a good design mixed with the right font can really make a quote or saying be more meaningful.  I’ve ended up trading in a calligraphy nib and paper for wood and paint, but my love of lettering is still there! Most of my designs I now make on the computer first.  It’s just easier to resize them for custom sizes if they are digital.  

"Every bump along the way will teach you something as long as you just keep going!"

Someone is starting a project for the first time, what would you want to say to them?

I would be honest and say that sometimes it is going to be really hard and not very fun.  It’s probably going to take way more time than you were expecting and it might not turn out how exactly how you imagined, but don’t give up! Every bump along the way will teach you something as long as you just keep going! Lakeside has been the perfect creative outlet for me and that outweighs all the hard parts. 

Why Des Moines?

Four years ago we were living in San Jose, CA and my husband’s company asked if we would be willing to transfer to Des Moines.  They flew us out here to visit for the weekend to check it out and we loved it right away! Our friends in California couldn’t believe we would leave the nice weather (and yes, the weather is the one thing about CA that we still miss!), but we loved that the kids could play free outside and that all the neighbors knew each other.  Iowa still has the lifestyle that we enjoyed as children and that we want our children to be able to experience as well. 

Des Moines is growing. What’s one new thing that caught your eye?

I heard that we are getting a West Elm downtown which is exciting! 

If you could grant the Des Moines area one wish what would it be and why?

We always say that if Des Moines had mountains it would be perfect!! But I guess if we can’t have mountains getting an IN-N-Out Burger would be a close second!

"Iowa still has the lifestyle that we enjoyed as children and that we want our children to be able to experience as well." 

Convince someone new to DSM your favorite place to go on your day off.

My family loves to go to Ledges State Park. When the weather is nice we go as often as we can. It’s the perfect place to take the kids and dog and spend the day hiking around the different trails and playing in the water.  We feel lucky to have such a beautiful place so close!

The most underrated thing in DSM is ________. Why?

The people! Everyone is so friendly here!!

What are you most proud of and why?

I am so proud that people actually hang my designs up in their homes!! How someone chooses to decorate their home is a reflection of their unique personality.  It makes me so proud to see that they value my work enough to add it to their home!   

"I thought of my business name about a year before while pumping gas at a Casey’s in Ankeny."

In three months what do you hope to accomplish?

I have so many ideas!! One of my favorite things about starting Lakeside Lettering has been getting to meet other local small business owners.  I would love to collaborate with some of them on local projects!  I’m also looking forward to adding some new holiday designs and other home goods to my shop.

What’s one thing people need to know you really care about?

It may sound cheesy, but I really care about my customers! I always say that Lakeside has the very best customers! I have made some great friends and connections that I never would have met without this business and I don’t take that for granted.