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Exceptional Taste Year-Round

Posted by Jon Kreye on
Exceptional Taste Year-Round

By: Paul Kirkman

The store my spouse and I envisioned was a highly curated hybrid of myriad stores we’d shopped at for years in the Twin Cities — and that we missed terribly after we gradually started relocating to the North Central part of the state in 2007. On paper, no one would say this was a business plan with merit, but in our hearts and minds, it made perfect sense. The energy and enthusiasm of the people involved in remaking the Crosby community were infectious and made an indelible impression on us in terms of what’s possible for the future of the area. 

It probably goes without saying that in a conservative area of the state, it’s not common for a same-sex married couple with two adult children to launch a highly designed retail business with a hot-pink tin ceiling and be open about their family life. But, oh well, we did. In my family, I’m the dreamer and planner — the entrepreneur who just wants to plow ahead with gut feelings and faith. My spouse, Paul VanderWaal, is the voice of reason and measured evaluation before implementing. Together, we make a pretty good pair when we allow ourselves to do what we do best. 

In the early days of planning Victual®, with Paul’s prompting, I did exhaustive research to figure out how to launch a successful specialty business in a seasonal community. Two things came to the forefront:  develop a niche that no one else is addressing in your region, and develop your own product that no one could source elsewhere. Both things create and prompt demand year-round, even with a diminished customer count in the off season.

With multiple family members on Paul’s side of the family being lactose intolerant (and upon learning that 20% of the U.S. population and 60% of the worldwide population is lactose intolerant), we decided that our niche was real dairy products that were either lactose free or lactose friendly — meaning that people with lactose intolerance can easily digest these full-dairy products without digestive upset. And we decided that our house-made product was going to be a superior-quality full-dairy ice cream that is lactose free — one so exceptionally good that customers wouldn’t be able to tell the difference between our ice cream and other super-premium ice cream brands. 

To these ends, I enrolled in the University of Wisconsin–Madison’s short-form Ice Cream class to learn about the science behind ice cream. Additionally, I partnered with Agricultural Utilization Research Institute to help develop our ice cream. And I contracted with the chairman of the Food Sciences department of the University of Wisconsin to optimally refine my base ice cream recipe to manage the changes of the sugar structure when breaking down lactose (milk sugar) into sugars that everyone’s body can easily digest. With literally months of planning and countless batches of ice cream trials, we knew that Rave Creamworks® was the backbone of Victual.

We found three adjoining properties in Crosby that seemed to be a perfect place to launch Victual, but the buildings — no matter how cheaply priced — were decrepit and needed mountains of money to renovate. To drive additional revenue to support the renovation and buildout costs, Victual’s plan was extended to include product categories that aren’t typically found outside the metro area: artisan cheeses in a cut-and-wrap setting; charcuterie (cured meats); packaged specialty gourmet foods; higher-end gifts/décor; and the state’s smallest liquor store (measuring a whopping 8-by-12 feet) that features estate wines from around the world, specialty distilled spirits and a broad assortment of liqueurs that craft cocktailers outside of the metro area are always searching for.

Victual launched in June 2019. People walked into the store and literally cried when seeing the transformation of the space. And with that, we were off and running. Less than one month later, traffic from the main thoroughfare was detoured for road construction on Hwys. 210 and 6. Less than one year later, COVID-19 struck, dramatically altering the landscape and the way people shopped. This year, traffic is again diverted for complete overhaul of the infrastructure on Crosby’s Main Street. Nevertheless, our customer base has supported us to a degree unfathomable in good times, let alone during the struggles of the past couple of years. Part of our success is that we’re truly customer service oriented — just like the olden days, when the salespeople were experts in their fields and really cared about their customers.

Two years in, we also know a couple more things — we’re contemplating expansion of our facility within Crosby, and I’m also dreaming about Victual No. 2 and where it might land. As expected, Paul is being true to himself and making sure that we perform our due diligence and strategic planning for whatever comes next.

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Read more of our stories in Issue 19 of Lake and Company.

 

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