Biz Buzz: Soap business launches; new outdoor dining option in Dubuque; local fish store grows; Sonic breaks ground

Biz Buzz shares business tidbits from around the tri-state area. This week, we highlight developments in Dubuque and Maquoketa, Iowa.

A couple of years after creating his first bar of soap, a Maquoketa resident’s hobby has evolved into a business.

Nolan Keller said he was inspired to create the product when store-bought options fell short of expectations.

“It was more of a personal thing at first,” he recalled. “My skin would always get dry from the soap I was buying, so I decided to make my own. I eventually found a recipe that worked really well.”

Keller and his wife, Courtney, launched their new venture, Mississippi Suds, last month.

The business sells bars of soap in a variety of scents. The products are made with all-natural ingredients.

Nolan said it generally takes about 90 minutes to make a mold of soap. The mold has to sit out before it is cut, and the soap eventually has to cure for at least four weeks.

Courtney, who married Nolan earlier this year, has gained an appreciation for how high-quality soap can benefit its user.

“At first, I didn’t think all this effort was worth it,” she recalled. “I thought soap was soap. But the more we got these bars into the hands of friends and family members, the more positive feedback we got.”

The products are available at Make a Splash Home Decor & Gifts, a retail store located at 100 S. Main St. in Maquoketa. The soap also can be purchased at


A Dubuque restaurant has unveiled a sizable outdoor seating area in hopes of salvaging a difficult year.

Houlihan’s, located at 1801 Greyhound Park Road, on Thursday opened an outdoor dining area with a dozen tables and room for more than 70 diners.

The eatery, which is owned by Q Casino and Hotel, was closed for months due to complications caused by COVID-19. Even when state guidelines allowed for the reopening of restaurants, Houlihan’s remained closed because of lower traffic at the casino and decreased occupancy at the adjoining Hilton Garden Inn hotel.

While the extended closure has taken a massive bite out of profits, Q officials are hoping the new dining space generates some extra interest.

“We tried to create a nice atmosphere,” said Q General Manager Brian Rakestraw. “We know that people really want to be outside and get that fresh air these days.”

The new dining area was created in a space formerly used as a parking lot. Crews enclosed the area, painted the concrete, erected tables and installed new lighting. Rakestraw said the outdoor area could become a permanent fixture, depending on the customer response in 2020.

Houlihan’s is open from 4 to 9 p.m. Thursday, 4 to 10 p.m. Friday, 11 a.m. to 10 p.m. Saturday and 11 a.m. to 3 p.m. Sunday.


A local fish store is gaining customers and expanding its footprint in its third year of existence.

Something Fishy Tropical Fish Store, 12615 U.S. 52 N, opened in November 2017 after local resident Ian Bonnette decided to take his passion for fish and turn it into a business.

Bonnette said the idea behind the business blossomed after he was gifted a 29-gallon fish tank. His growing collection of fish inspired him to explore opening a business.

“I did some research on the market, and I realized there are really no locally owned fish stores in the area,” he recalled.

Since opening, the business has tripled its footprint and expanded its selection of products.

It now sells a wide array of tropical fish, tanks and food. Bonnette noted that his business also services fish tanks, and designs, installs and maintains koi ponds.

“I have learned as much as I can learn about fish,” said Bonnette. “And I will spend the rest of my life continuing to learn about them”

Something Fishy Tropical Fish Store can be reached at 563-552-7206.


Crews broke ground last week on the construction of a new eatery in Dubuque.

A social media account dedicated to the future Sonic Drive-In within the Plaza 20 Shopping Center posted a video on Thursday in which contractors commenced work on the restaurant site. Within the video, officials state that Sonic is aiming for an early December opening.

Plans to open a Dubuque Sonic first were shared in the summer of 2019, but nearby traffic issues led to a lengthy delay in the restaurant’s opening.

The arrival of the eatery, located at 2560 Dodge St., marks yet another positive development at Plaza 20.

Officials from the shopping center recently announced that furniture store Slumberland will relocate there in the first quarter of 2021. It will occupy the final remaining space in the old Kmart building.

The Dubuque Veterans Affairs Outpatient Clinic and a Joann fabric store filled other portions of that building in 2019.