My favorite Bayfield County Greenhouse Sales…

I’m a planner. I love pouring over gardening catalogs all winter long dreaming up raised garden bed plans, flowering combos, hardy perennials and edible shrubs. While I implement many of these plans, my black thumb and sandy soil cancels out many of my efforts. This annual kill-off provides the perfect opportunity to frequent some of my favorite Greenhouses each spring.

Some of my favorites include shopping for succulents at Big Brook Greenhouse in Cable. Each year I lovingly look at the turtle shaped plants thinking someday I’ll be responsible enough to keep one alive. For now, I just keep adding to my favorite succulents of all – Hens and Chicks.

When it comes to edible shrubs, Blue Vista Farm in Bayfield is an all-time favorite. I struggle to keep blueberries alive, even though I live in perfect soil conditions and wild blueberries grow all around me. Go figure. But wandering this farm provides a glimpse of sheer summer fruit perfection. I prefer picking wild blueberries but now with Jake in-tow, some summer picking sessions here might be a must do.

Peterson Greenhouse in Iron River is perfect for my vegetables and annuals, in part because of its proximity to my house. It never fails that you plan and plan but once you plant, you need just one more plant. After several rounds of this, I either run out of time or in many cases money to answer that call. Anyone who has gardened before knows what I’m talking about.

goodie boxWhile it is too early in the season to be shopping these favorite hot spots, this past weekend marked my favorite greenhouse experience. The annual perennial sale at Hauser’s in Bayfield generally starts on May 1 each year. Perennials are awesome in the sense that even the most frugal gardener (as in me), feels each plant is a worthwhile investment because of its ability to keep coming back. Perennials are like the energizer bunny, they just keep going and going until you need to divide them and double your investment. Sure, they might not have the sassy bloom that an annual brings to the table. They tend to be a bit subtle in their summer display, but I think that’s one of the things I love about them most.

Shopping the barn sale to me is like the Barney’s Warehouse Sale in NYC. Any perennial that has a chance of growing in the north woods is dug up and thrown in endless rows on display. Holding the bare root in your hand, it is hard to conjure up what joy this can bring to one’s life. My husband often shudders as the total is rung up. But by mid-June, many of these bare root plants are thriving in my sandy soil.

In addition to the barn sale, Hauser’s has provided me 3 apple trees, 2 pear trees and a beautiful cherry bush (at an amazing price) that continue to thrive despite multiple years of drought like conditions at my sandy hotspot in Iron River.

hausersThis year was extra special because I got to bring Jake along. He certainly had no clue what was going on. To him, the bare root plant served as a new and exciting chew toy. But, the mama in me knows he has a black thumb and gardening soul like me. I cannot wait for us to pour over the plants together as we plot out his garden. Plus, daddy will have a lot harder time cringing at the price tag when someone so cute is involved.

Afterwards, we hit up one more Greenhouse that I absolutely love but given it is 40-minutes from my house, I rarely stock up on annuals. I do however take advantage of their Mother’s Day basket sale. Tetzner’s Greenhouse (which is conveniently located down the road from Tetzner’s farm and my favorite ice cream sandwich), is several hoops and houses of beautifully blended flowers looking for the perfect home. They also have an awesome $10 Mother’s Day basket sale that we take advantage of annually. This year, I got to buy 2—one for my mother-in-law and one for me. Life doesn’t get much better than that.

If time and money weren’t an object, I’d spend countless days and dollars shopping. But for now, I limit myself to these few favorites (and an occasional drop-in at others when nobody is looking). To my gardening followers, happy spring!

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

 

 

Celebrating 36 My Way

Token Selfie at the Apostle Islands Sea Caves
Token Selfie at the Apostle Islands Sea Caves

I turned 36 today. As of this moment, I’ve been an adult longer than a kid. I officially feel old. I thought this might kick in when I turned 30 but that was a breeze compared to today. Perhaps it is because I’m a new mom. Perhaps it is because I have now fully accepted I cannot start my day without a cup of coffee and that just seems like such an old person issue. Or, perhaps it is because I keep nursing a multitude of aches and pains resulting from a combination of training for my next half-marathon and just everyday life. Either way, I feel old.

To celebrate 36, I opted for solitude. These past few years I’ve really come to terms that despite being a freelance writer and public relations guru by day, I am in fact the world’s largest introvert. I love interacting with people. I love connecting the dots between friends and colleagues. But there is nothing more I love than disconnecting from everyone and everything and just being lost in my thoughts. Better yet, stick me with those thoughts alone in the wilderness with a camera.

I’m not sure if you had heard but the Apostle Islands Sea Caves opened up for the first time in 5-years. (Yes I’m joking). I’ve walked these hidden gems in the past. My first time was while living in Duluth. I ventured over the bridge to the unknown “south shore”.  This magical place felt like it was days away versus 45 minutes from Duluth. I was instantly in love, not just with the caves but also the hidden gems along the way. It was Lake Superior in all her glory but without the people.  That frosty mid-week morning I was the only one wandering through these majestic, ice adorned caves.

At the time, I never thought I’d end up living in Wisconsin. What little I knew about my future. Several years later I ventured out to the caves again, this time with Steve. We were dating at the time and despite claiming he was the great outdoorsman, he had never bothered to visit the caves. It was a day filled with laughter, endless picture taking and another affirmation that I had found the man I wanted to live with forever.

And today, I returned to the Sea Caves again. I know I’m a bit late to the game but my goal was to enjoy the caves alone. As each day passed that they were open, the numbers of visitors grew exponentially. I couldn’t seem to find a moment to escape my day-to-day responsibilities to beat the morning, afternoon, and weekend crowds that were coming from all around the world to see this wonder.

When the notice came out that the caves were closing, I realized time had run out. It was now or never. I woke at 6 am to arrive at the Sea Cave parking lot around 7. As day’s first light broke, I made my way down to Lake Superior to discover I wasn’t alone. But, alone enough given 125,000 folks have visited the caves in a mere two months.

At midnight the caves close. My birthday passes. All things considered, it was an uneventful birthday. But, it follows an eventful year of buying new land, becoming a mom, growing my freelance and returning to the streets to prepare for my fourth Half-Marathon. I’ve learned lots and discovered I really know nothing. I’ve made new friends, found new hobbies and grown as a person. I look forward to all 36 has to offer and sharing it with those around me, while embracing my quiet moments alone.  In the meantime, one final look at today’s hike.

Apostle Islands Sea Cave Madness

Courtesy: National Park Service Photo
Courtesy: National Park Service Photo

This photo ran on the front page of the Ashland Daily Press today. To be frank, I’m a bit stunned. The National Park Services estimates that 6,000 people visited the mainland Sea Caves on Saturday alone. In big cities, this number might seem insignificant. But you have to remember that I live in a county with no stoplights and a TOTAL population of 15,000. In other words, this is insane.

The onslaught of people is being attributed to a media frenzy of coverage. I imagine given the never ending Polar Vortex story, outlets were looking for a new angle or something else to say other than, “man it is cold.” The end result, thousands flocking to my neck of the woods for something that most locals have seen dozens of times in the past 20-years. In other words, the Sea Caves have been around for centuries, folks but I’m happy that thousands of people now know about them thanks to social media and a boom in media coverage.

So, welcome to Bayfield County. It is a fabulous place to live. I hope you leave just a bit jealous. And, if you are planning to be one of the thousands expected to hit the Sea Caves in the next few weeks, let me offer a few suggestions. On President’s Day weekend, consider experiencing Lake Superior via Book Across the Bay. It is an entirely different way to see Lake Superior and all of her glory. Last year, a piece I wrote ran in the Pioneer Press about the race. Folks who are more into watching the action versus participating may want to head to Drummond, Wisconsin for a fabulous daytime experience of Bar Stool Racing. The 15th Annual Bar Stool Races get underway at noon. I had the chance to attend several years ago and here’s a bit more about the races if you are interested. In terms of dining, there are quite a few options in the Bayfield area. But, a little closer to my neck of the woods is the Delta Diner. This hidden hot spot in the middle-of-nowhere is pretty awesome and definitely worth a visit. On your way home, feel free to give some love to my favorite Iron River hotspot – White Winter Winery. A couple other places worth checking out if you end up near Iron River – Deep Lake Lodge, Hyde’s or The Spot if you are in the mood for a Supper Club Atmosphere. Those craving pizza will love Pizza Parlor or Round Up North in Brule.

I offered some tips in my last post about the Sea Caves but the only thing I can say now it be prepared for people. Plan to put on extra miles due to parking constraints. Empty your bladder or recognize you may be standing in line with limited access to restrooms. But, that’s the reality of visiting a true hidden gem that’s been around for centuries and will be here long after we’re gone. As someone who hasn’t tackled the crowds to visit this year, but has enjoyed the Sea Caves in solitude in the past, they are spectacular. Mother Nature has a way of putting on a show that can’t be manufactured, replicated or replaced. Perhaps that is what makes this majestic ice show so magnificent. While each person’s experience on this adventure is different, I hope you enjoy the show!

Apostle Islands Sea Caves Are Now Open to the Public

The Apostle Islands Sea Caves in 2009--the last time they were open to the public.
The Apostle Islands Sea Caves in 2009–the last time they were open to the public.

seacaves1 seacaves3 seacaves2The Apostle Islands Mainland Sea Caves are now open! If you’ve never been, I highly recommend it. While lots of folks visit the Apostle Islands Sea Caves during the summer, winter is tricky because you never quite know if they are going to open. In fact, the last time they were safe to visit by foot was 2009. I highly urge you, before heading out, to be sure it is safe. The easiest way to do this is by calling the National Park Service at (715) 779-3397 Ext. 3. I’d call the morning of because conditions can change on Lake Superior in a heartbeat. And, while the Sea Caves are amazing, safety first folks.

This is the first time the caves have been since 2009. I imagine this weekend will be packed with locals and tourists alike. I’ve managed to make the trek a few times and this is what I’ve learned. Early morning/dawn is the best time to head out. In addition to beating some of the day crowds (and there can be lots of them/as in van loads), the way the sun shines on the caves creates some great photo options. It also has a bit more of a rustic feel to it. By mid-day, the single lane trail to the caves feels like an ice highway and getting a snapshot or enjoying any solitude among the caves is pretty much nada. Plus, parking is limited and you may find yourself parking down the street versus next to the beach in the small parking lot.

The hike is flat. You are hiking along the shores of Lake Superior and on Lake Superior. It is about 2-miles round trip. But, it is an easy 2-miles in terms of having interesting things to check out for a portion of that hike. Be sure to bundle up as the wind off the lake can be brutal. That said, the windier it has been prior to your visit, the cooler the ice formations will be hanging off the caves. Many times, you can actually see the curved ice that formed as the wind literally froze the run off coming off the caves. If you find yourself making the trek up to hike within the Sea Caves, only to learn conditions have changed and it is unsafe to visit the caves, consider taking the hike that runs along the shore on top of the sea caves. While views are limited, it is a great winter hike.

Afterwards, consider sharing some of your love with some of the smaller South Shore restaurants. They struggle a bit and frankly, it is the nice thing to do since you are taking over their normally quiet beach. A few of my favorites – enjoy super crunchy taters and hot burgers at Woody’s in Herbster. The hearty Fish Chowder at Village Inn in Cornucopia will warm you up after your morning hike. Or, if you aren’t staying for lunch, grab some smoked fish from Halvorson Fisheries in Cornucopia or Everett’s Fisheries at Johnson’s gas station in Port Wing.

To get there: Meyers Beach is located 5-miles east of Cornucopia, just off Highway 13. Look for the brown park service sign on Highway 13 directing you to Meyers Beach. This is a recreational fee area of the National Park Service so be sure to pay the couple bucks before enjoying one of the great wonders of Wisconsin.

For additional information about your hike, visit this National Park Service website page.

 

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.

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.

Local Brandy Coming to Iron River!

It is no secret I love living in Iron River. And, here’s another reason: White Winter Winery. I first learned about the winery while working at Northland College. It turns out the owner are alums, which lead me to their shop to do an article about their mead. Fast forward to today, and when I do drink, their Blueberry Mead is a favorite dessert drink of mine. Local berries and honey, made by a local couple in my hometown? It doesn’t get much better than that.  Or does it?

Last month I did an update on their business for Business North. It started as a piece about their Green efforts and being a member of the Travel Green program in Wisconsin. But, I was also thrilled to learn that they’ve jut received their distillation permit allowing them to create a local fruit brandy. It won’t be ready for two years but in the meantime, the permit also allows for them to start distilling Eau Di Vie – which is water of life in French. The colorless spirit will provide a hint of smell and flavor of regional fruits and maybe even be ready by this holiday season… in case anyone is looking for that perfect Christmas present for me!

Here’s a link to the full article if you’re interested…

Duluth Rocks

It is no secret that I love living on Moon Lake. In fact, life in northwest Wisconsin is pretty amazing. But, prior to my life in Wisconsin, I spent about a decade working, living and playing in Duluth. Leaving Duluth was extremely tough. There is something enchanting about the city. Many say it is the big lake. As someone drawn to water, I can relate to that. But, it is more than the world’s largest freshwater lake that makes Duluth so unique. This past summer I had an opportunity to write an article for Minnesota Business Magazine exploring why folks do business in the city. It came out last week as a 10-page spread. The online version can be read here. 

The article gave me an opportunity to connect with some of the new entrepreneurs to Duluth, along with some old favorites I’ve interviewed in the past. New or old, these entrepreneurs share a passion for life outside of work that reminds me that life is about more than what you do on-the-clock. It is a refreshing and welcome message to hear from successful business owners.

The article also gave me an opportunity to interview Mayor Don Ness. My path has crossed with Mayor Ness since the early 2000s. I first interviewed him while working in news about his efforts to keep young people in Duluth through an initiative called Bridge Syndicate. Later, I played on a softball team that he occasionally played on as well called Bacchus Crew. (For those wondering what Bacchus means, think Greek Mythology and drinking). While my memory is a bit foggy, I am pretty confident we lost nearly every single game we played. But, it was a great networking opportunity that provided plenty of laughs. Even then, I admired Don’s drive (he was President of the City Council). Since then, I’ve enjoyed watching him from the sidelines making a positive impact in a place I still to this day love. Duluth is lucky to have him.

Bottom line, it take more than a big lake to make a city grand. At the end of the day, the people matter. And in Duluth’s case, there are some great entrepreneurs and leaders at the forefront paving the way for a bright future in Duluth. And that is something I was proud to write about. I hope you enjoy the article!