Up high along the west wall of Kitchen Collage is a line of about a dozen large photos of various adventures that Teresa Adams-Tomka has experienced in recent years, several of them being with Above and Beyond Cancer. When she finds a moment to steal a glance at them, she’s reminded of the places she’s gone and the people she’s met who have worked hard to give life to others. 

She’s climbed Imja Tse — a 21,000-foot peak in Nepal — once and Mount Kilimanjaro — a 19,000-foot dormant volcano in Tanzania — twice. She’s hiked to the base of Mount Everest. She’s been on a team of cyclists that raced across the United States in less than eight days. She ran consecutive marathons in Virginia and West Virginia. She’s competed in several triathlons. She’s biked to four state capitals with a group of friends, starting from Des Moines. 

“I work really hard and so I also play hard,” Adams-Tomka said. “But life has not come easy.” 

In 2007, her husband, Jim, died in a boating accident while fishing in northern Minnesota. Adams-Tomka said that moment was a major turning point in her life. 

“Death and grief teach you a lot. You gain perspective in a way, because none of us are getting out of here alive, right? So each day [I try to be] present and active and be a part of whoever I interact with.” 

Adams-Tomka decided to keep Jim’s memory alive by dedicating more time for travel and philanthropy. 

“My purpose is to get up every day and contribute. What am I doing to contribute to make somebody’s life better today? Maybe that’s with words, maybe that’s I helped somebody find the right kitchen gadget for them.”

Adams-Tomka started working in retail in 1980. As she describes, she married the love of her life two years later and ended up typing briefs for Jim while he was in law school. She had her five children shortly thereafter, and in 1991, she found herself working part time at Back Country Outfitters in Beaverdale to get out of the house. 

In 1999, Adams-Tomka and her friend Molly Eliason (who is no longer involved with the company) first opened Kitchen Collage on 100th St. in Urbandale. Five years later, they moved to their location at 430 E. Locust St. in the East Village, where Adams-Tomka has been ever since. 

“We were just hoping to continue to serve the community. Sometimes I come to work at 7 a.m. and I don’t leave until 7 p.m. … Retail is hard work. I enjoy hard work and I feed on that. … I am here to serve.”

1. Above and Beyond Cancer: Adams-Tomka has been involved with Above and Beyond Cancer since its inception in 2011 and currently serves on the board of directors. She’s traveled across the world, leading several trips. “Those trips help me gain perspective on world health and the impacts of health care. ... As a business owner with a voice, we can help impact policy either directly or indirectly. Our health and wellness, along with integrity, are the only things we have.”

2. Les Dames d’Escoffier International: A member of the LDEI Greater Des Moines Chapter, Adams-Tomka works to help provide opportunities for fellow women in the hospitality and culinary industries to network and support each other through education and outreach events. 

3. Being a pioneer business in the East Village: When Adams-Tomka took a leap and relocated Kitchen Collage from its original location in Urbandale to the East Village in 2004, only a handful of businesses existed there, including Blazing Saddle, Sticks and Eden. She is credited with kick-starting further development in the area. “It’s really fun to think how it’s changed. You get to know the people that are out on the street. It’s been great to see the growth.” And a fun anecdote: When Mike Draper — owner of Raygun, then called Smash — moved into the East Village, he couldn’t afford bags, so he would send his customers over to Kitchen Collage if they wanted one.