Finding a Place in Duluth

This month I had a multitude of articles come out including my first blog post for Midwest Living and an article about talent recruitment in northeast Minnesota for Minnesota Business Magazine. The topics are wildly different but they both focus in one a special place in my heart – Duluth.

As a new mom, I am finding it difficult to get quality information on family friendly locations in the area. I find myself asking other moms, sticking to what I know, or occasionally winging it and hoping I don’t ruin too many people’s lives. That said, Jake goes down at 6:15 so dinner dates are a distant memory in my life. If you find yourself in the same boat as me, be sure to check out my piece on 10-family friendly spots to hang in Duluth.

As for my piece in Minnesota Business Magazine about talent recruitment in northeast Minnesota, I enjoyed writing this piece because I distinctly remember a time when I was an ambitious Duluthian who for a variety of reasons needed to leave television news. I had a solid resume and great education but my connections to the business community in Duluth were weak. At the time (2004), I genuinely believed the only place to find a job was via the Duluth News Tribune. I actually did end up finding my job this way – but it was in Ashland at Northland College. This of course, sparked a whole new life for me including meeting Steve and eventually ending up on the shores on Moon Lake (which is frankly awesome). But, there will always be a part of me that dreams of returning to the Twin Ports.

In the mid-2000s, I seized an opportunity to return to Duluth for work (even though I lived in Washburn, WI at the time). Up until 2011, I worked at the Duluth Superior Area Community Foundation. One of my tasks at the Foundation was working on an initiative to attract and retain young adults in Duluth. It was an interesting project and an interesting time to be a part of the solution. I had the opportunity to participate in Fuse – the young professional arm of the Chamber of Commerce; participate (and be honored one year) in the 20 Under 40 awards; lead initial efforts with the Young Leaders Fund of the Duluth Superior Area Community Foundation, and work one a portal for young adults which included being a John S. and James L. Knight Community Information Fellow via a grant from the Knight Foundation.

Today, many of these efforts have evolved and/or changed. But, it is exciting to learn that it continues to be a focus in the area. It is cool to know that recent grads or those at a turning point in their career have tools like NORTHFORCE and TwinPortsConnex to help them transition without having to leave the state.

(But if you do have to leave the area, consider northern Wisconsin. It is pretty awesome as well. And, we still have an awesome home in Herbster for sale…)

That’s it from Moon Lake today. This weekend I’m heading to Cable to make my first succulent wreath. I hope to share that experience along with some photos from my garden soon.

Advertisements

The Perfect Marketing Storm

The calendar says April 4 but if I look out my window, I have the joys of seeing a fresh foot of snow. As someone who is training for a half-marathon, this is extremely annoying. Muster up a conversation with anyone in the tri-county or possibly tri-state area, and the conversation will likely turn to this unseasonably miserable winter. As a life long northlander, I get winter. I get miserable weather but honestly, enough is enough. On a side note, this winter will go down in the history books for more than just the longest winter ever. Around here it’ll always be remembered as the year the Sea Caves went viral. The social media, marketing, story teller in me couldn’t help but attempt to explore why this happened in this month’s Business North.

Of course, I didn’t draw any incredible conclusion. But, it was a fun, powerful lesson and reminder about the fact that television news isn’t dead, social media matters, people love selfies of themselves in front of cool things (which will cause others to long for said selfie), and there’s nothing like a Hail Mary Polar Vortex on your side to boost tourism in the northwoods. Here’s a link to the article.

If you stumble across any other recaps about the Sea Caves or want to share a post about your experience at the caves, send them my way. I’d love to share them here. In the meantime, here were a few of my favorites. Some make this list for incredible writing. Some make this list for great photos. And some make this list for over-the-top reporting that makes it sound like the Sea Caves are either a new thing or that hiking on Lake Superior (in the winter) is something incredibly unusual. I’ll let you be the judge…

The Surreal Apostle Islands May Only Be Visitable For Another Few Weeks: Huffington Post

Almost Otherworldly: The Sea Caves of Lake Superior, On Ice: NPR

Lake Superior Freezes, Revealing Ice Caves Blocked for Five Years: Esquire

Winter Gives Access to Dramatic Ice Caves Along Lake Superior: Pioneer Press

Our Morning at the Ice Caves: The Cookery Maven

Sea Caves Shrowded In Ice Open to Explorers: NBC News (local affiliate reporter)

Lake Sueprior’s Ice Caves Offer Glimpse of Nature’s Fleeting Beauty: CBS Evening News

Rare Frozen Path on Lake Superior Opens Dazzling Ice Caves to Hikers: LA Times

Guest Shots: The Sea Caves of Cornucopia: frankjhutton.blogspot.com

Exploring the Frozen Caves of Lake Superior: The Baltimore Sun

The Beautiful Ice Caves of Northern Wisconsin: Stonehouse Photo Blog

Extreme Weather Exposes Rare Ice Caves in US: Aljazeera

 

 

Impact Articles Galore

I haven’t had much time to post articles in a while, in part because I’ve been writing up a storm offline. The past few months I’ve focused my writing on a variety of impact stories–many of which center around economics. It is always interesting to question a business or nonprofit to understand why they do what they do, and learn about their regional impact. In the February/March issue of Positively Superior, I did a feature on Catholic Charities. In the upcoming issue, I looked at how Mac Sport and Marine seized an opportunity to provide power sports to NW Wisconsin and NE Minnesota during the recession. Access to these articles can be found here. Meantime, on the Duluth side, features about Great Harvest Bread and Johnson, Killen and Seiler are in the current issue of the Duluthian with pieces about the Northland Foundation and Ace Hardware in east Duluth coming soon. These business and non-profit features are a great reminder of people contributing to society in a variety of interesting ways.

Meantime, In the past couple months I’ve wrote a couple of impact stories for Business North. They’ve revolved around the economic impact the arts has on northwest Wisconsin, how Northland College contributes to Chequamegon Bay and how a family owned business in Iron River is making waves in the logging industry. I’ll post my Northland College piece today and hopefully some of the others soon.

An article I just completed that I’m pretty excited about is a feature for Minnesota Business Magazine that’ll run early summer about efforts in northeast Minnesota to attract and retain talent – both young and old – and how these tactics play a huge role in economic development. They’ve just added me to their line-up of contributing writers, which includes a brief bio page on their website. I’ll be sure to share that one, once it is in print.

Meantime, a few weeks back I was notified of a publication I occasionally contributed to was folding. Duluth Superior Magazine was a great publication to write to. I still have their inaugural issue from 6-years ago where I penned a fashion piece of all things. It was also because of them that I won my first statewide award in the magazine industry. I am sad to see them fold because they were a great addition to Twin Ports media. I wish everyone on staff nothing but the best.

As I mentioned, I hope to post more content soon but in the meantime, here’s a link to a piece about my old stomping grounds Northland College. I was their director of communications for 2-years and to this day, I can honestly say I’ve never worked for a place quite as unique and environmental as this environmental liberal arts college in Ashland. Enjoy!

*********

When Northland College’s founding fathers established the college in 1906 as an offspring of North Wisconsin Academy, it is unlikely they anticipated how vital the College would become to the region’s economy.

Today, the Ashland Wisconsin environmental liberal arts college is home to 600 students from 32 states and 5 countries including Canada, Ghana, Great Britain, New Zealand, South Korea and Sweden.

But, what does this mean to the Chequamegon Bay region? The Fiscal and Economic Research Center of UW-Whitewater recently completed an economic impact analysis of Northland College. The goal of the study was to determine the economic impact Northland College has on the local economy.

Northland College President Michael Miller says these types of studies are typical in higher education. “It is not unusual for a college to conduct this kind of study every five to 10 years. The advantage of it is it helps the community understand the value we bring to the area.”

The study found that Northland College supported 421 jobs in the region with 236 of them being direct jobs at the College. While this number may not seem substantial, given Northland’s rural location, this accounts for 1% of all employment in the area. The total income for these 421 jobs tops $12 million.

In terms of overall impact, when you factor in spending both for the college and student spending, Northland’s overall impact approaches $33 million.

Miller says these numbers are not surprising. “They always come out bigger than you imagine but we weren’t surprised by how much we contribute to the local economy.”

Ashland Chamber Director Mary McPhetridge says Ashland is vital to the region’s economy, not just in economic impact but also in cultural and environmental.

“Ashland is fortunate to have a quality leader in sustainability and liberal arts, thanks to Northland College. We have always had a culture of sustainability simply by the diverse business sectors that can be found with the city limits. Having a quality four-year private college in the mix is essential to maintain our successful sustainable heritage.”

McPhedtridge goes on to say the more the College makes the community aware of this impact, the better.

“Since President Miller took this position, he has had a focus on creating relationships within the business and social community of Ashland and the Chequamegon Bay and increasing awareness of the College throughout the entire region which is beneficial to both the College and our community.”

Miller says these conversations and connections are key. In fact, Miller says given the unique nature of Northland College, these numbers might not paint the whole picture. “We are doing what others aren’t,” he says. “Given the uniqueness of our situation, this study might underestimate our total impact.”

For example, Northland College has made a strong commitment to purchasing local foods. According to Regional Sustainability Coordinator Nathan Engstrom, the college purchased $77.827 in local food within 100 miles and an additional $14,843 within 250 miles. This number jumped substantially during the current school year with totals at $111,368 within 100 miles and an additional $,6,798 within 250 miles. This is about 42% of their total food purchase.

Miller says this commitment to local food is important to the overall mission of the College. “We’ve set a goal of increasing the local business we use, whether it is in construction and support services or as part of our commitment to using food from local growers.”

Looking ahead, Miller hopes to build on this initial study by looking at some of the direct and indirect benefits of utilizing local foods. He also wants to follow-up with graduates of Northland College to better understand where they live and their impact to this region.

Institutional Research Specialist Petra Hofstedt estimates that of the 1,606 graduates since 2002, 319 of them live within the Chequamegon Bay region. This accounts for 20% of the graduates and is tracked by tracking graduates permanent address. Later this year, Miller plans to expand this data by gathering supplemental information about their success in terms of employment.

Ultimately, this information will provide a baseline metric for the College to build on. In the meantime, the study triggered a community wide conversation. In March, the data was presented at a well-attended public forum at the Northern Great Lakes Visitor Center.

“Anytime you can bring students, faculty, staff and the community together, we’re achieving our goal of immersing ourselves within the community.”

Bulk Foods in the Woods… Why not?

This article first appeared in the December issue of Business North. I couldn’t help but sharing for the simple fact that it is folks like Kitten that make living in northwest Wisconsin so awesome. Plus, where else in the U.S will you find a massive Bulk Food Store in the middle of nowhere… Definitely off the beaten path but worth driving to any chance you get!

What comes first – the chicken or the egg? This is a common conundrum among new business owners trying to determine how fast to grow their business. Kitten and Eric Dymesich are no exception. But, the Mason Wisconsin couple isn’t letting that stand in the way of their dream to own and operate a local bulk food store.

kittenThe Bulk Food Store, LLC was something Kitten dreamed of opening since moving away from her childhood home in southern Wisconsin. “I grew up shopping at Amish stores,” she says. “After I moved up here, every time we would go visit my family, we’d stock up on supplies at those stores.”

It was after one of these trips that Kitten casually mentioned how great it’d be to have an Amish bulk food store in northwest Wisconsin since the closest one is hours away. Eric, who is always up for a challenge, took that comment to heart and decided to make her dream come true.

To accomplish this, Eric spent many hours in an Internet Café researching the industry. While this process is similar to many other entrepreneurs, Eric’s situation was slightly different due to the fact that the Internet Café was in Iraq. In addition to being an entrepreneur, Eric was also a combat medic who was deployed to Iraq in 2010.

While the time difference and location made business planning difficult, the couple never gave up. Upon returning home in 2011, Eric used his leave to set-up shop at their home in the outskirts of Mason. Doing so, accomplished several things.

“I always planned to be a stay at home mom,” Dysemich says. “This allowed me to run the store, while taking care of our two children.” The couple also had the space since they had built their home with extra space built in for a potential small business.

“We own this building and live here. When we were starting out we got some advice which was start small and build yourself up, and this was a way we could do that.” In July 2011, their doors were open.

Since then, business has steadily grown. But, their location has continued to be troublesome. Located on a country road outside of Mason, Wisconsin and at least 5-miles away from U.S. Highway 2, customer acquisition is difficult. Kitten says putting a covered wagon on Highway 2 has drawn a lot of attention. But, they are continuously looking for creative ways to market themselves in hopes of bringing new customers to their shop.

“We keep experimenting to see what makes a difference for us,” Dymesich explains. To date, they’ve advertised in local newspapers and radio, managed a blog, crafted articles for a free newspaper, managed a Facebook page and have a web presence. They’ve also started selling some of their foods online.

products Today, their marketing and hard work appears to be paying off. On any given week, they can see between 40 and 60 customers shopping the endless shelves of bulk beans, grains, flour, rice, pasta, nuts, dip mixes, candies, seasoning, dried fruits, drink and dip mixes and various local products such as honey and meat. At first glance, it might sound like a long drive to visit a grocery store but Dymesich says they are different.

“We are different because we provide our products with less packaging which allows you to get more for your money. It also allows you to choose different sizes.” She goes on to explain that the couple is also focused on bringing a better quality product to the consumer.

Some of their best selling items include unbleached, unbromated all purpose flour, Australian licorice, black cocoa, cheddar cheese powder, chick soup base and a variety of seasoning and spices.

A combination of unique, premium products at a bargain price has convinced customers it is worth the trek to Mason to shop. But, to be sustainable, they know they need to keep growing if they want to create a long-term sustainable business.

Most recently, the couple has expanded into a new market. For over the past year, they had been purchasing and selling Northwestern Coffee Mills beans out of Washburn, Wisconsin. When they learned former owner Harry Demorest has passed away, they began a conversation with his daughter Kate about the future of Northwestern Coffee Mills to ensure the long-time legacy of the locally roasted coffee continued. When it became clear Kate wasn’t going to keep the business going, they decided to acquire the business. Demorest had a long-time, robust customer base that he shipped coffee to in more than 40-states across the U.S. Today, the Dymesich’s hope to regain that customer base and build on it.

As for what the future holds, Kitten says they hope to continue building business in their current location to prove the business model and need for a bulk food store in northwest Wisconsin. Once that happens, they hope to move their store but continuing to live their dream of owning and operating a local business providing quality food to their customers.

Goat Cheese Anyone?

In this month’s Business North, I have several articles covering a wide range of topics from a local goat cheese maker, to an off the beaten path bulk food store and an in-depth look at the man behind the Evergreen Country Shopper. I thought I’d share the goat cheese story first, because well, who doesn’t love pics of cute little goats? I haven’t had a chance to spend time on the actual farm. But, the diligent reporter in me did find time to test the product. Good stuff Maynard. The cheese is awesome. And, I love that the farm is in Herbster–a personal favorite spot of mine, especially since my hubby and I keep buying land over in that neck of Bayfield County.

Anyways, I hope you enjoy the article. And, the next time you are in the area, you consider picking up some of this artisan goat cheese that you just won’t find in the aisles of any big chain. Happy eating!

Local Cheese Makers Partner Up to Provide Artisan Cheeses from the North Woods

Photo Courtesy: Mary Dougherty
Photo Courtesy: Mary Dougherty

47-year cook Michael Stanitis knew he didn’t want to be a chef forever.  But, he wasn’t exactly sure what he did want to do with his life. He knew he loved goats. And, he knew he loved goat cheese. So, eight years ago he began a journey on his Herbster homestead that today has resulted in a successful artisan cheese line.

“It just kind of happened,” he explains of his Sassy Nanny cheese line. “While I was still working, I got a few goats and started messing around with making cheese.”

It is a huge leap to go from making cheese in your backyard to becoming a licensed cheese producer. In the State of Wisconsin, you need at least three licenses including a cheese maker license, a dairy producer license and last but not least a cheese plant license. While Stanitis was confident about the first achieving the first two licenses, building a state certified cheese plant just wasn’t in his budget.

“It would have cost more than my house to build the cheese plant on my own,” he explains.

It was about this time that he met nearby farmer Fred Faye, who was also interested in making cheese—only using sheep’s milk. Faye, who lives on an old dairy farm, had the barn structure that could be converted for the facility. He also had the desire to make the investment. After much debate, the two decided to share costs on the facility but operate their businesses separately. This was three years ago.

University of Wisconsin-Extension Bayfield and Ashland Counties Agriculture Agent Jason Fischbach says these types of partnerships aren’t uncommon among farmers in northwest Wisconsin. “One of the goals of our agricultural development efforts in the Chequamegon Bay area is to foster networking and collaboration among our agricultural entrepreneurs.  By working together, these entrepreneurs are able to share resources, lower production costs, and access markets more effectively.” He goes on to say, “Our region has a long history of farmers working together and today is no different.”

So far, this partnership seems to be one more success story of two farmers working together to create a value-added product. Today, Stanitis says his business is doing well. This year he’s on track to produce and sell about 4,000 pounds of goat cheese. He focuses on the local market—and by local he means within about 100-miles of his Herbster farm. He extends a bit further south into Eau Claire. And, while he’s been asked to provide goat cheese in the Twin Cities, he’s hesitant to break into that market.

“I’m a strong believer in the local food movement,” he explains. “There are goat cheese producers closer to the Twin Cities than I that should really be in that market versus me.”

Photo Courtesy: Mary Dougherty
Photo Courtesy: Mary Dougherty

He currently focuses on distribution in regional food co-ops including Whole Foods in Duluth and the Chequamegon Food Co-Op in Ashland, along with various local markets. You’ll also find him at local Farmer’s Markets on the weekends. Right now, he’s selling everything he makes minus a small winter stash that ensures his regulars can purchase in the off months.

He sells a variety of cheeses that are primarily fresh pasturized cheeses. Lake Effect, which is a fresh spreadable cheese and Cabra Fresco, which is similar to queso fresco, are his most popular.

“I think people like the Lake Effect because it is fresh, soft and versatile,” he says. “It has  great flavor but not so much the aged goaty flavor that people associate with goat cheese.”

He’s also slowly entering the aged, raw cheese world with a variety of cheeses including a red wine washed rind Winey Kid and Finit Su La Paille which is a classic French-style moldy rind aged soft cheese.

The herd, which is 35 goats strong, is a herd he’s built from the ground up. In terms of what makes a good goat, Stanitis says he has a different breeding program that some farmers. “My goats don’t have to set world records in production. They just need to provide a steady production during  the lactation season and be in good body condition.”

As the goats reproduce, he keeps back the kids from the mom’s who have served him well while placing other goats with families in the region that want a couple quarter of milk for their family.

Despite his success, Stanitis recognizes he needs to make some changes to enjoy long-term sustainability. He currently produces the cheese and milks his herd of 35 goats daily, entirely on his own. Long term, he hopes to grow his herd to 45 goats to have a little more cushion in his day-to-day business operations.

“I always knew this would be hard work but this is really not sustainable,” he says. At 47-years old, he knows he can’t keep up the 12-hour work day, 7-days per week forever.

In a perfect world, Stanitis dreams of a couple that is interested in starting a goat dairy farm in the area that he could buy direct from.  “I would be all behind that,” he says. “I’d help them get set-up. But unfortunately, it is not that easy to find people in that.”

So for now, Stanitis continues to milk goats, make cheese and distribute it. Despite the hard work, he says he wouldn’t trade it for anything. “I still can’t believe how great this has been. I’m fortunate because people want to support me and I produce a great product.”

To learn more about Sassy Nanny or find additional locations you can purchase Sassy Nanny cheese, please visit their website.

Fun Times! Coffee Roasting Article Wins Statewide Award

I just learned that an article I wrote on Roasting Your Own Coffee won a gold award at the Minnesota Magazine and Publishing Association Excellence Awards ceremony in the category of How-To. It ran in Duluth-Superior Magazine last fall. It turns out the article never made it to their website but I dug it out of my archives to share.

In terms of buying green beans Northwest Coffee Mills out of Washburn is no longer an option since the passing of Harry Demorest. (But for those who love his coffee, the Bulk Food Store in Mason has taken over the business). Alakef is still an option. Or, my new personal favorite spot is Happy Mug Coffee. Great product and the owner is willing to go above and beyond in providing some at-home roasting tips!

For those who take the leap to roasting their own coffee, Happy Roasting!

 Holiday Gift Guide-
Home Roast Coffee: A unique and fun holiday gift for coffee addicts
Some of our fondest memories revolve around the sites, smells and flavors of palette pleasing delights. From the cool sensation of ice-cream on a hot summer day, juicy burgers fresh of the grill, the sweet surprise of sugar snap peas straight from the garden, or a freshly picked berry from the heart of the North Woods, these simple palette pleasers improve our everyday life. But, for the millions of coffee addicts in the US, nothing compares to a fresh cup of coffee consumed daily.

This year, why not share in this intimate experience with your closest friends, by carefully hand roasting raw coffee beans as the perfect holiday gift? The process itself is simple, start-up costs are at a minimum, and the outcomes are endless.

Similar to the grapes used in wine, coffee beans vary from region to region with certain areas being known for specific types of beans. Even this can vary, though, based on the conditions of any particular growing season.

Separate from the region, Arabica and Robusta are the two general species of coffee beans made available. Arabica, which contains less caffeine, tends to have a wider variety of flavors. Robusta, on the other hand, has more caffeine but tends to be lower grade than Arabica. For the purpose of at-home roasting, we recommend focusing on Arabica beans.

To roast at-home, the first thing you need to do is purchase raw coffee beans. Alakef in Duluth or Northwest Coffee Mills out of Washburn, Wis. sell raw or green coffee beans online. In terms of selection, reading the brief summaries of the beans will give you a general sense of flavor. Sumatra, Ethiopia, Kenya, Guatemala and Costa Rica are great regions to start experimenting with and will provide a wide range of outcomes when roasting. Assuming you start with a moderate flavored bean, the largest variable will be how dark you roast your beans.

Once you have the beans in hand, it is time to start roasting. There are several ways to roast at-home but our experience is it tends to be smoky (especially if you burn the beans) so be prepared to have your smoke detectors go off. And, as beans roast they shed what is often referred to as chaff, which can get extremely messy. While this is the downside of at-home roasting, the fresh flavor of a home-brewed coffee far outweighs the cons.

There are many variations in how to roast beans but what you watch for is the same. The beans, which are green in color, immediately begin to lose their moisture during the roasting process. Shortly after placing the beans on heat, you’ll begin to hear a cracking sound, often referred to as pyrolisis. This first crack occurs just below 400 degrees. At this point, you’ll have created what is often referred to as a Cinnamon or New England coffee. As the bean heats, it’ll get darker. At 400 degrees, it’ll be light. As it approaches 415 degrees it’ll become light-medium, then medium and medium high. By the time the bean reaches 435 degrees, you’ll start to hear a second crack. During the second crack, the beans will go from being dry and brown to having an oily surface. Soon after, you’ll have an espresso bean. And, for those who like extremely black coffee, you can roast up to 475 degrees which is a dark French or Spanish coffee.

To start out, a medium roast tends to be the most forgiving because if under roasted you will have a nice light coffee versus the risk of being too underdone and if over roasted, you’ll have a full roast rather than an extremely burned, smoky mess. Once the beans have reached the desired outcome, immediately remove them from the heat source and begin cooling them with a fan. At this point, especially if you are roasting your beans extremely dark, cooling the beans quickly is key because as long as they are hot they will continue to roast each other. To expedite the cooling process, wear heat resistant gloves and continuously rotate the beans. This will also help remove the chaff.

In terms of how you heat the beans, there are numerous at home contraptions that’ll work. Perhaps the easiest is using a popcorn roaster. Poppers with side vents work the best because the airflow more evenly heats the coffee. To roast the coffee, limit yourself to 85 grams of coffee per roast and recognize that this may eventually burn your roaster out. Once the popper is on, slowly stir the beans until they start to pop. After their first crack, monitor them until they reach the degree of darkness you want. At this time, pour them directly into a bowl and begin the cooling process.

Another option is on the stove top in a large fry pan with a crank lid that allows you to stir the beans while having them covered. Line the fry pan with a single layer of beans and place on direct heat. In this case, gas stove tops work best. Roasting this way can take up to twenty minutes and requires continuous rotation of the beans to ensure even roasting. While tiring on the arm, it is the most intimate and easiest way to make sure you don’t burn your beans.

Our personal favorite, though, is roasting on a grill outside using a steel drum with holes attached to a rotisserie. Similar to stovetop roasting, this can take up to 20 minutes but you can do larger quantities and the mess is outside.

These methods tend to be smoky and take a while to perfect but are a hands-on, inexpensive approach to crafting the perfect holiday gift for your coffee loving friends and family. Expect to pay about half the price for green coffee beans as normal beans but recognize you lose some weight in the roasting process.

If at-home contraptions aren’t your style, a second option is making an investment of several hundred dollars for an at-home coffee roasting machine which simplifies the process and guarantee you more consistent results.

Once roasted, the beans will need to rest at least overnight prior to grinding. To preserve flavor, grind the beans at the last minute possible. Or, better yet, present them as whole beans with a burr grinder (the best way to grind coffee) as the perfect holiday gift. Roasting beans can be a rewarding and flavorful gift for friends and family, along with something you can give yourself year-round. Once you’ve perfected the craft, it can save you money as well while providing fresh brewed coffee at home.

Beth Probst is a coffee addict and freelance writer in Iron River, Wisconsin who began roasting her own coffee beans after discovering the closest coffee shop open by 7 am is more than 30 miles from her home.

What makes a great cup of coffee? A Bayfield roaster just might have the answer…

What makes a great cup of coffee? Is it the quality of the bean or the company you share it with? I’ve recently become a coffee snob after discovering the difference in quality a cup of coffee made with freshly ground beans can bring to one’s morning. Since caffeine plays such a critical part of my morning, I also started to play with roasting my own beans at home to see if I could create the perfect morning brew. While the end result is not as great as the pros, it certainly beats a burned cup of ground coffee from our local gas station.

I’m finding, though, that part of the joy of that morning (or afternoon) brew comes by sharing it with someone special. Perhaps that someone special is yourself, alone on your deck listening to the loons sing before your newborn wakes up and life takes a sudden turn into the unknown. Or, perhaps it is catching up with a long-time friend that you rarely spend time with. I am now convinced that whoever or however you enjoy that cup of coffee matters. And, I’m not alone. So often, the local coffee shop is the core of a community.

This past month, I had the opportunity to chat with Big Water Coffee owner Danielle Ewalt about her venture in Bayfield. She and her husband Jon took a leap of faith and invested their lives in Bayfield. So far, it is paying off. While we have yet to meet in person, I hope to meet them someday when my adventures take me to Bayfield. In the meantime, here is the piece I wrote about them, along with some fabulous photos by Hannah that ran in the October issue of Business North Magazine. Enjoy!

 Beating the Odds in Bayfield

Photo Courtesy: Stonehouse Photography
Photo Courtesy: Stonehouse Photography

Once named the Best Little Town in the Midwest by the Chicago Tribune, Bayfield swells with tourists from Memorial Day to Labor Day. Given the sparkling blue lake, quality shops, gourmet food and quaint Bed and Breakfasts, it is easy to see why this is town is a hot spot for tourists and businesses alike during peak tourism season. But, come off-peak times, the town paints a different picture. With a population of just over 500, many businesses recognize year-round sustainability is a pipe dream and turn off their lights.

Big Water Coffee on Main Street is one of several exceptions to the rule. But, achieving this goal didn’t come easy and remains a constant work in progress—something owners Jon and Danielle Ewalt thrive on.

As for how they became owners of the coffee shop on Main Street, Danielle claims it was “serendipitous.” The couple, who was in their mid 20’s, dreamed of opening up a café somewhere in Wisconsin. As they were exploring small towns to possibly build in, they found themselves in front of a for sale sign in Bayfield on a crisp October day. “We had never been to Bayfield before but we had heard it was a cool progressive place,” Danielle Ewalt says. “After seeing the shop we did some research and ultimately decided this was the place for us.”

By February, they were living their dream of operating a coffee shop in small town Wisconsin. “John and I love food and drink. That’s how people connect with each other,” explains Ewalt. “We love the coffee shop because it is a gathering spot for everyone. Anyone can come and enjoy a $2 cup of coffee and feel welcome.”

Despite their passion for community, keeping their doors open hasn’t been easy. “We had no experience in food service,” says Ewalt. “We’ve made a lot of changes since we first opened. It has been a steep learning curve.”

For example, the couple no longer offers made to order food, instead focusing on being really good at what they do—making quality coffee drinks. They’ve also learned to scale their business up and down, going anywhere from 6-8 full time staff during slow times to 15+ during the busy summer months.

Photo Courtesy: Stonehouse Photography
Photo Courtesy: Stonehouse Photography

Jon, who is a self-taught roaster, has spent years perfecting his craft. He’s shadowed roasters he respects and cupped endless cups of coffee to learn how to get the best flavor from the beans. The couple has also learned that when it comes to quality coffee, freshness counts. “Our freshness differentiates us from other coffees in the area.” This includes encouraging folks to recognize coffee is perishable and stamping their package with a roasted on date. “A lot of companies don’t do this because they don’t want coffee to be seen as a perishable product, but we recognize that’s what makes our product different.”

As they have worked through the kinks of being self-taught business owners, Ewalt says a welcoming community has made the entire experience worthwhile. “You really get what you give in this community,” she says. “Once people realized we weren’t leaving in a year, they found no reason not to invest in us. It really is a supportive community.”

It takes more than a supportive community to remain profitable year-round, though. As a result, the Ewalts have spent the past few years focusing on how they could grow their business during off-peak times. As the only local coffee roaster in the region, the couple saw an opportunity to expand their wholesale business.  To accomplish this, the couple invested in new packaging that includes a UPC code, which is easier for other business to handle. They also hired a full-time wholesale rep, with an ultimate goal of balancing out the extreme seasonality doing business in Bayfield brings to them.

Despite this growth mode, the couple remains committed to community. They find ways to give back to their community—whether it is donating free coffee to local non-profits or serving on the Bayfield Chamber of Commerce.  In fact, their coffee shop is just an extension of the community—a spot for folks to sip a perfectly brewed drink, break bread (their bakery items are fabulous) and come together.

Bayfield Chamber of Commerce Director David Eades says having this type of business open year-round is key to bringing a community together. “Having a year round coffee shop is vital to the life of a small town – or any town. Not only does it serve as place to energize with a cup of coffee and a scone before you head out on your daily adventure, be it sailing, kayaking, skiing, hiking, or just going shopping, it also serves as a gathering and meeting place for the locals to discuss the pressing issues of the day. The coffee shop serves as an anchor business for the visitor as well as the resident as they begin their day and is an integral part of life in a small town.”

 To learn more about Big Water Coffee, visit their website here.