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…

Berry Picking, Bare Feet, and Three Strange Men in an Ambulance

Prior to an unsettling event last week that caught me completely off-guard, I had the opportunity to take advantage of yet another great past-time in my neck of the woods—berry picking.

IMG_1280The wild blueberries in Bayfield County are bountiful this summer. And, thanks to having a husband who spends most of his time driving the back roads of the county checking timber sales, he’s my perfect investigator for finding the best, secret berry hot spots around. This year was no exception.

Last year I purchased a blueberry rake from Williams Sonoma. I thought this might expedite the extraction process of the miniscule royal blue gems. FYI: It doesn’t work on wild blueberries.

I only lasted 45-minutes in the early morning sun before Baby Boy Probst informed me enough was enough. But, it was long enough to harvest enough berries to make a great batch of blueberry muffins and enjoy several breakfasts of berries and yogurt. As I packed up my car, I had every intention of returning to enjoy another harvest well before the season ended. Unfortunately, this won’t be the case.

A few days later I sat in the doctor’s office and was informed I should start taking it easy. Despite my best efforts to lie low, I was dealt another surprise last Thursday when my blood pressure shot up for reasons unbeknownst to me. Within an hour I was in my doctor’s office. She immediately had me admitted to MMC. While I was never in serious danger, there was certainly an immediacy I was not expecting. My hubby soon arrived at which time I was informed it might be go time… and that they were starting a magnesium drip in my arm and sending me via ambulance to Duluth.

Other than listening in on the Second Grade Tours I coordinate for the hospital, I’ve never spent time in or around an ambulance. I can honestly say it wasn’t on my top 10 list of things to do before I die. And, I certainly didn’t want my first transport to be one that would take 75-minutes, with three men I didn’t know, no shoes, and at a heightened hormonal state.

I silently cried much of the way to Duluth for no reason. The men, clearly experts at dealing with their own hormonal wives and/or overly emotional patients, did their best to calm my nerves. (Some medication may have helped as well). It was during this long, bumpy ride that I discovered two things—they really need to repave parts of Highway 2 and being vulnerable sucks.

There is something about riding barefoot in an ambulance with a measly hospital gown and no wallet or phone that makes you feel very vulnerable. It is even worse when your feet are swollen and less than glam. Watching too many episodes of Grey’s Anatomy had me envisioning us getting caught in a hurricane and me flying out of the back of the ambulance on a gurney, only to be lost in the woods in hopes some other stranger would find me. (Never mind it was sunny, dry and 70 degrees out).

Soon, the world’s longest uneventful ambulance ride was complete. I’ll spare you the details of the next 48-hours other than to say I never went into labor. Baby Boy Probst is doing fabulous. I’m stable. And, after two nights of monitoring and tests, I was allowed to return home with the understanding that this will be over in two weeks and berry picking or any strenuous activity (including work) is out of the question.

Every mother has a birthing story that is unique. Heartbreak, hope, sheer and utter joy, pain, anxiety, stress, frustration are regular emotions one rides on the rollercoaster journey of motherhood. My story is no exception. But, I’m also finding that my story is filled with angels that show-up at the most unexpected moments, asking for nothing in return other than to help me.

I’m not overly religious. But I find comfort in the chaplain who prayed for me when our adoption failed. The calming effect doctors and nurses have on being honest and direct with me at a time I want to think the worse. The nurse who came by and without even asking, offered me her Caribou coffee, knowing the hospital coffee was gasoline at best. The co-worker who didn’t think twice about checking my blood pressure daily to ensure I was doing ok and the others who have comforted me along this entire journey. Caring friends that listen to my endless ramblings without passing judgment and always knowing what to say or do. Supportive family. My breastfeeding, birthing coach and doula who answers my endless questions. My strong and compassionate husband who rubs my back, changes litter boxes (with minimal complaining) and vacuums while I nap. My puppy Joey who follows me around offering hugs and cuddles as needed, while my kitties offer me comedy relief and cues on how to rest for endless hours daily. And somewhere up there, I know the greatest angel of all—my mother is watching over me as well and reminding me that the Sisu Fin in me is strong enough for whatever comes my way in the next few weeks. Bottom line, Baby and I are both blessed.

So, my blog posts adventures in and around Lake Superior are quickly dwindling while I prepare for a different kind of adventure. But, I’ll be back soon with new stories and adventures to share about life on Lake Superior with a little one in tow. Stay tuned…

Got Milk? (Guest Post by Beth Probst, author of circletouradventures.com)

This past week I had the opportunity to share my favorite ice cream business along Lake Superior for the oober cool “Girl from the Northwoods” blog. I also did an article in the July issue of Business North about the dairy industry and Tetzner’s. I frankly don’t have the patience or desire to ever go into dairy farming, but as a true northerner who loves my cheese, milk and ice cream (not to mention top the tater but that’s a whole different post), I’m sure glad there’s still folks out there willing to put in the time and investment for dairy. Enjoy the post and be sure to check out their blog as well!

Girl from the Northwoods

dairy sign

Ask anyone, and you might be surprised to discover that I’d choose pickles over ice cream any day, even when I’m not 7.5 months pregnant. I’m the gal that used to win pickle juice drinking contests as a kid while I watched my friends gag over the salty, tangy goodness of a chilled vinegar drink. That said I’m not one to discriminate against sweets just because my taste buds prefer salty, so I can throw back a bowl of ice cream like no other.

I’m not sure if that makes me an ice cream connoisseur. But, it does mean I have an opinion about the best ice cream around Lake Superior and that’s Tetzner’s.

Tetzner’s Dairy Farm is located just outside of Washburn, Wisconsin.  The family farm dates back decades—in fact 82-year old owner Philip Tetzner has been in-charge of the family affair for 64-years. He took over the farm…

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Adventures on the Lake Superior Scenic Byway

The past month has been a whirlwind of various freelance writing assignments—many of them highlighting why I live where I do. I’ve enjoyed learning about why South Shore Brewery in Ashland is expanding, the business model behind my favorite ice cream (Tetzner’s if you’re wondering) and talking to industry experts about the economic impact local parks and tourism have in both Minnesota and Wisconsin.

In case you’re wondering, the Apostle Islands National Lakeshore (mere minutes from our land in Herbster) brings in $20.9 million per year to our local economy. Copper Falls State Park, which happens to be a nearby favorite of mine, brings in $8.8. You can read more in the June issue of Business North.

I hope to post more about some of my most recent adventures, including a guest blog post I’m working on for Girls from the Northwoods. In the meantime, I’m excited to see signs going up along Highway 13 featuring the state’s newest Scenic Byway. Before you hit the snooze button, this is an important designation for my stomping grounds. People often question why I live where I do. The answer is simple—northwest Wisconsin rocks. Each year, hundreds of thousands of folks vacation in a place I call home. They come to see the big lake and escape from the hustle and bustle of everyday life. But, they often don’t take a moment to venture off their itinerary to see all this area has to offer.

Sections of Highway 13 are a big part of that. It is just off Highway 13 that I wander some of the best (and emptiest) Lake Superior beaches around. It is here I buy my favorite ice cream, coffee and fish (when I’m not pregnant). It is where I hike and pick wild apples in the fall, blueberries in the summer (and no I won’t tell you my hidden spots) and photograph wild rivers and flowers in the spring. It is where I hike the Sea Caves in the dead of winter and watch ice formations crush up along the bay creating an intricate art display you have to see to believe.

The dedication of the new Lake Superior Scenic Byway was just last month. I did a quick update for last month’s Business North. That said, it doesn’t capture the heart of why it is the state’s latest and most likely last scenic designation. Today, I needed to make a quick trip to Bayfield which meant an opportunity to snap a few shots along the way. I hope to post more next time I’m out and about (and it isn’t raining). Enjoy!

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Ice Melt in Bayfield County

This past Saturday I was supposed to be lacing up my tennis shoes and running a half-marathon in Nisswa, Minnesota. But, Baby Boy Probst had different plans for me. (Yes, I may in fact slip a mention of baby from here on forward). In early March I retired my running shoes for walking shoes. At first I was disappointed about this—especially on the morning of race day. My hubby was traveling and I was scheduled to photograph a volunteer luncheon for work. I suppose in some respects, it was a pity party.

But, once out of bed I discovered spring had finally arrived in Bayfield County. The air was warm, ice was receding from Moon Lake and the sun was beaming down. Plans came together to have coffee with a new found acquaintance who loves coffee and photography even more than I at my favorite local coffee shop Big Water. And, as I packed up my gear for the event, I threw in my personal camera to check out at least one spring waterfall on my way home.

Since I was traveling solo and the recent chain of weather events meant the woods were still packed with deep snow, I went for an often overlooked but easy to access waterfall in Port Wing.

The snow was still knee deep and the parking lot wasn’t plowed. I parked on the road and made the short trek along the river. As I approached Twin Falls, the sound of rushing water grew exponentially louder. What is normally a graceful stream of sparkling waters was instead a gushing brown rapid river making its way to Lake Superior. I am certainly not disappointed. The rushing water and slippery conditions meant I didn’t hike down the trail that takes you to the river’s edge but instead snapped some shots from the river’s ridge. Soaking in the sun’s rays and admiring the canopy of trees overhead I realize life sometimes takes us on a different journey. Driving home from Port Wing, I couldn’t help but feel great about how the day’s events unfolded. Sure, I would have loved to have crossed the finish life of my 4th Half-Marathon. But, if the concession prize is enjoying a luncheon with amazing volunteers, sharing coffee and stories at Big Water Coffee in Bayfield and photographing yet another hidden gem in the place I call home, than losing isn’t so bad.

Enjoy these shots from Twin Falls in Port Wing, Wisconsin.

To get there: Twin Falls is located on Highway 13 just outside of Port Wing, Wisconsin. You’ll find the trailhead within the city park just 2 blocks from the intersection of Highway 13 and County A.

Dining at the Delta Diner

deltadiner

Reason #568 I love living where I live – the Delta Diner. I first dined at this hidden gem after a winter hike several years ago. The buzz about this diner in the middle of nowhere had been building and I knew I just had to make the trip to Delta to check it out. Um yeah. Amazing. Great atmosphere, super friendly service and one of the most creative North Woods menus I’ve seen. The Scandinavian in me loves the super thin, flavor packed pancakes and the carnivore in me drools over the fresh ground sirloin patties served up on Burger Monday. Add in handmade sweet treats, such as the caramel apple pie and life’s complete. All of that said, when I set out to do an article on a local investment group recently, I had no idea I’d stumble across another factoid that demonstrates just how amazing the Delta Diner is to my stomping grounds.

While interviewing Washburn Mayor Scott Griffiths about an initiative he’s involved in encouraging folks to pull their money from Wall Street and invest in Main Street, he suggested I speak to Todd about how he worked with the local community to drive his business forward. While the two initiatives are unrelated, I followed up and wasn’t too surprised to learn about the folks who wanted to invest in Todd’s vision. The article ran in this month’s Business North but in case you missed it, here’s a rerun of what can happen when you commit to a project you believe in–others can’t help but follow your dream with you.

Next time you find yourself in Bayfield County, make time for the meal of your life at the Delta Diner, I promise you won’t be disappointed!

To get there: Delta Diner is located at 14385 Cty. Highway H in Delta, Wisconsin. Truth be told, if can find Delta, you can find the Diner. From the East or West on Highway 2 turn south on H in Iron River.

One other notable – if you’re in the area, be sure to check out the Rainbow Lake Wilderness area 4 miles north of Drummond, Wisconsin. The Delta-Drummond road is a great way to access the North County National Scenic Trail within this area which encompasses 6,583 acres. It also just so happens this was one of the first wildernesses designated back in 1975. The first few snapshots of this slideshow are from the trail–yet another overlooked gem in Bayfield County.

Grassroots Group Aims to Invest in Main Street

A grassroots Chequamegon Bay area group has a vision of creating options for northwestern Wisconsin residents to invest their money in Main Street versus Wall Street.

The local investment group consists of passionate individuals and regional experts who are helping navigate and research the concept. One member, who first introduced the idea to the area after attending the Building Local Ecnomies (BALLE) conference in Washburn, is Mayor Scott Griffiths. He said the movement is about providing opportunities for both local businesses and investors.

“It would be a way for someone to go to invest in a business they know and believe in versus sending their money away” to Wall Street, he said.

Unlike a loan, the goal is to find creative (and legal) ways to make equity investments versus loans to help a business grow. By accepting such investments, recipients don’t have to worry about interest payments up front but can grow their business while the investor gets a return based on how well the company is doing.

While the concept sounds simple, finance regulations are not. As a result, the group is studying its available options.

“We’re also trying to determine who and where the businesses are that could benefit from this type of investment,” Griffiths explained, and how much they’d be willing to invest.

He envisions the process will ramp up as people learn about it and the group has successes to share with the community. And, while participants can’t take credit, one local business is experiencing significant success with raising capital through its local customers.

Success in Delta

Delta Diner opened its doors in 2003. The East Coast diner sprung up practically overnight in the middle of nowhere, or in the owner’s belief, the middle of somewhere – Delta, Wis., a dozen miles south of Iron River.

“Every time I drove by that spot with the broken down cobblestone building, I felt something should be there,” owner Todd Bucher said of the site.

After doing his homework, Bucher learned that from 1923 to 1972, the site was something special. The broken down cobblestone building was actually the old Delta Store, which included a gas station, groceries, post office and tavern. “It was the center of the universe for folks living in that area.”

Today, it’s home to the authentic East Coast diner. Bucher recognizes Delta isn’t exactly a population center, but says his focus is creating a unique destination dining experience to which folks will drive. So far, he seems right.

It wasn’t soon after he opened his doors that customers recognized how unique the dining experience was and approached him to see if there was a way they could become a part of his dream. While he appreciated the gesture, Bucher genuinely believes that until you prove your concept the financial risk should lie with the owners.

As time went on, business exploded. Successful as it was, to reach the next level he needed to built it out and maximize efficiencies. However, after 24 months of exploring finance options, he discovered traditional lenders just weren’t interested in his business model.

It focused on slow growth. After opening, he removed about 30 percent of the seating so they could focus on the customer experience and ensure they were bringing in the right type of customer. He knew that if he built an experience you couldn’t get elsewhere, people would make the drive, which would bolster sustainability. The banks didn’t agree.

“They looked at the fact that we were walking away from revenue and said, ‘you’re doing what?’”

Frustrated by his experience, he worked with a consultant to create a five-year business plan and explore other finance options. It turns out that state statues allowed him to take on a number of LLC members who were more than investors. These folks would actually own a percentage of the business.

Bucher knew people were interested, so he found creative ways to let customers know if they wanted to get involved, it had become an option.

“We didn’t want to impose on our customers,” he explained. “We didn’t want to imply that we want your money but instead that the door is open if you’re interested.”

Working with his brother’s ad agency, he organized a subtle campaign displayed within the diner that let interested parties know something was happening. If they reached out to Bucher, he steered them to a password protected video that explained his vision for the diner and what the equity involvement would entail. If folks were still interested, they could attend an informal meeting to learn more.

“We were looking for certain types of people to get involved,” he said. “We weren’t selling it as ‘Hey, this is a gold mind investment’. But instead, we were going after people passionate about our business model.”

Once again, Bucher experienced success. By the time the campaign was over, he had recruited 22 new LLC members to his business. They own 40 percent and invested $400,000 towards the diner. They attend annual meetings and vote on important business matters. And, while the return on their investment might take longer than is traditional, Bucher believes it will come.

“From an organizational standpoint, we are a good business with strong financials. But these people also have a personal or emotional connection to our vision. It is a different type of return.”

His investors have changed the future of the diner.

“The impact for us is huge,” Bucher said. “We have a larger, more efficient facility that we paid for in cash. This allowed us to do what we otherwise couldn’t have done.”

Looking ahead, Bucher is ramping up for an exciting couple years of growth and new experiences. One way he’s enhancing this destination dining experience is by offering a series of dinner events that range from a Blue Plate Lecture series that “treat the stomach and feed the brain” to themed meals and outdoor barbecues and bands.

The diner also plans to add e-commerce in the next 12 months to serve far away customers who might be craving the red beans and rice or homemade chipotle paste but can’t make the drive to Delta because as much as the diner is in the middle of somewhere, it is still a long distance from most places.

Surprise! My Journey to Motherhood…

My life in 90 seconds.

This is in fact one of the worst kept secrets of all-time for me. I guess it isn’t so much that it is a secret but rather an odd thing to share beyond my close circle of friends and colleagues who need to know from a planning standpoint. However, as my pants get tighter and I admit that I am no longer training for my 4th Half-Marathon, I wanted to clear up the confusion as to why. So there you have it.

The past month has been a flurry of writing activity. With tourism season around the corner (should spring ever arrive), I hope to post about a couple local favorites including the awesome Delta Diner and year-round gallery favorite Karlyn’s in Washburn, Wisconsin. Stay tuned.

In the meantime, I’ll share this. For those who don’t like corny, feel free to stop reading right now. In January, I started a 90-day program with the creative and inspirational Leslie Hamp. The program, Create the Life You Crave, was a chance to pause this winter, take stock on life, set some tangible goals and work to achieve them. Of course, life threw a curveball because immediately after I set my goals and 24-hours before the program started, I learned I was pregnant. That said, I still managed to adjust my course of action, achieve some of my goals and better understand where I’m going in life. Not bad for 90-days. The course ended with a vision board. While my artistic talent is lacking, it is a great reminder of what matters in life.

As part of the course work, we were asked to write about our perfect day. No additional parameters were set other than to dream big. I immediately dived in, knowing exactly what my perfect day encompasses: Nature, exercise, quality conversations and encounters, great food and coffee, and some quiet. To this, I added the impending news of baby, which is 5-years in the making. My perfect day goes something like this:

I awake as the sun breaks on Moon Lake. A loon serenades me as I face a new day full of promise. I tiptoe down the stairs and start water on the stove—a base for a freshly pressed cup of light roast coffee I made on the grill earlier this week. While waiting for the familiar whistle signaling the water is ready, I peak into the nursery for my daily reminder that miracles happen.

By the time my first cup is down, baby is awake with a freshly changed diaper via my hubby. It is Saturday and we’ve got the entire day ahead of us to explore. Once dressed, we head to the Farmer’s Market in Port Wing where we buy freshly baked bread to accompany the giant beefsteak tomatoes and basil from our garden at home. From there, we continue on to our land in Herbster where we take our little one out and about to check and trim the balsams on our Christmas Tree farm that’ll one day be home to an important family tradition. Then, it is off to the beach in Cornucopia for a picnic and opportunity to listen to the solitude of Lake Superior while enjoying fresh smoked whitefish. Baby dips her toes in the Big Lake for the first time and squeals with joy. Fully relaxed, we continue along on our South Shore journey, wandering the shops of Bayfield, indulging in an ice cream sandwich from Tetzners, picking berries in our special spot and buying goat cheese from Sassy Nanny at Coco’s to round-out our dinner all while snapping endless photos along the way.

We head home for an evening boat ride on Moon Lake. Our neighbors are out and before we know it, a small group has gathered on our deck for dinner. We fire up the grill and fill it with veggie kabobs freshly picked from our garden and burgers from Jim’s and enjoy sides from the treasures we’ve picked up throughout the day. As the sun sets, we build a bonfire and watch babies wonderment directed at the flickering flames. Surrounded by friends and family, I am reminded that perfection comes in many forms.

Everyday is not this perfect. But, my life is filled with love and balance and family. I am healthy enough to chase after baby, run half-marathons and swim across Moon Lake. Work is fulfilling – I’m a full-time PR specialist with enough time to freelance write about the area I love and continue working on my self-published book, while staying at 40-hours per week. I balance the rest of my time out with board service and volunteering with an ultimate goal of building a new Youth Center and Library in Iron River, writing that next great American novel, exercising, cooking, gardening, reading, traveling, being a loving mother, sister, daughter and wife and having meaningful, rich relationships with friends, neighbors and colleagues.

Despite these dreams, I also accept and recognize that my self-published book will not hit the New York Times Best Selling List and that I may not succeed in building a new library in Iron River, become the next Julia Childs, break a Half-Marathon record or win All-American mother. But, for the first time in my life, I am ok with this. I have come to the conclusion that it is better to live life to the fullest and fail than to give up at the first sign of imperfection. The journey to motherhood has taught me to be vulnerable, to let go and find resolution with the unknown. To accept I cannot control everything and that things might now always go my way. But if I believe I am enough, than I am in fact enough, even if others don’t feel the same.

Brené Browne in her book, Daring Greatly: How the Courage to Be Vulnerable Transforms the Way We Live, Love, Parent and Lead says, “Don’t try to win over the haters; you are not a jackass whisperer.” Oh so true. And how I love her.

I realized a few days later after reading this back to myself that my perfect day is in fact, my current life. Sure, it all doesn’t play out in a single day. But, all of these components are very real and important parts of my daily routine. This didn’t happen by accident, or without a ton of missteps, miscalculations, mistakes and sacrifice. But, in hindsight, I wouldn’t trade that journey for anything. It makes today, that much sweeter.

I know things won’t always be this perfect. And, there are plenty of things I can keep on doing in the self-improvement category. But for now, I want to savor the fact that hard work and being true to one’s self pays off in the end. I hope everyone can feel this way at least once in their life—it truly makes up for all the days that don’t pan out this way.

Spring Thaw – Lost Creek Falls

Courtesy: Cornucopia.net
Courtesy: Cornucopiawisconsin.net

I remember it like yesterday. It was spring, 2005 and I had just met this odd duck online named Steve. After dining over Chinese food and cheap beer we determined we liked each other enough to hang out again. Since it was spring thaw and Steve claimed to be an outdoorsman/forester, he suggested we hike to this remote waterfall that is off the beaten path but particularly spectacular this time of year.

An avid hiker and even backpacker at the time, I was delighted by the prospects of heading out on this adventure to something I had never even heard of. On a Saturday morning in April, we made the drive in his ’98 Honda Civic to a remote parking lot next to a cemetery near Cornucopia. It seemed a bit odd to me at the time and I started to wonder just how much do I know about this strange man that’s taking me to this remote location. It turns out that perhaps Steve didn’t exactly know where said place was either.

A snow covered ground and brown and green canopy of trees engulf us. The further we go into the woods, the more my feet squish and break through piles of snow leaving my feet damp and my leg muscles aching. Soon, my visions of murder are replaced with the calm that can only be discovered in the North Woods while one focuses on putting one foot in front of the other. As time progresses, I notice Steve looking around more than usual. I immediately become suspect because while I respect a man who takes in the outdoors, I can also immediately point out a man who is lost. We soon hit a clearing where Steve casually pulls out a satellite map and his compass and looks left and right… and then left and right again. “Hm,” he says.

I begin to panic. I, of course, have been paying absolutely no attention to where I was going. And, since I didn’t drive and was new to the area, I had no clue if we were next to civilization regardless of what way we walked or would spend the rest of our weekend wandering around hoping to find some snippet of life.

Since this was only our second date, I didn’t want to be rude so I refrained from going Erickson on him demanding answers. Instead, I casually question if he knows where we are. The repeated looks around the clearing are answer enough. After what seemed like eternity, he simply folds up the map and heads back into the woods. “I think I know where we are.”

My options are limited. I can either wander the woods in hopes a different random stranger finds me. Or, I can take a leap of faith and follow this stranger to this hidden gem in Bayfield County. I follow my gut, or in this case Steve, back into the dark forest. Soon we hear the trickle of water followed by a deep ravine filled with water, also known as Lost Creek Number 1. As we follow the water that has left its mark in this County Forest upstream the promise of a waterfall grows louder.

The waterfall itself is not that large, maybe 15 feet or so. But, in the height of spring thaw, the water volume is quite amazing. There is also something serene about how quiet the world is around the rushing of these falls. Unlike other falls, this one is out of the way, often overlooked and not easily accessible, allowing you to experience it alone. With no nearby roads, the sounds of traffic and city life disappear.

As soon as we arrive, Steve is ready to move on. Frankly, my wet and sore legs are as well. We make our way back to the car, this time not needing the map. But, something in me said there was something special about this day. I’m not saying I fell in love. But, similar to the river cutting its way into the ravine, Steve made an impression on my heart that day. Now, eight years later, that’s a spring Saturday I’ll never forget.

Unfortunately, I was playing it too cool at the time to snap photos of our first daylong adventure. I hope to return this spring, should it ever arrive in northern Wisconsin. I’ve also been told the fall colors are spectacular in this mix of hardwood and evergreen forest. Stay tuned for photos or find time next time you are in Bayfield County to venture out on this hike where perhaps magic can happen for you, too.

To get there: The route to Lost Creek Falls has changed since I first ventured there in 2005. Today, you can take Highway C south of Cornucopia 1.5 miles and turn right on Trail Drive. There, you will find a marked trail head parking lot. The falls is a solid 25-minute walk over uneven terrain.