APPLETON -- Why compete when you can rule on Main Street?
There remain plenty of opportunities for entrepreneurs on the Main Streets of rural communities away from the mega-stores of urban areas.
Just ask the Scandi Girls.
Since they became business partners last November, Susan Erickson and Pam Ellison have seen growing demand for an ever-expanding menu of bakery goods and treats, as well as for their catering service.
Their biggest challenge is to temper their enthusiasm for all of the opportunities they see and discern what works best for them. Or, as Ellison explained it: "What is the temptation and what is the right thing, what is the good work?''
Ironic too, since their business is based on our inability to pass up the temptations they place in the display cases every day.
Scandi Girls operates out of the Meat Center in Appleton, where fresh baked goods are available daily. They also stock the shelves of Bergen's Market in Milan with fresh bakery goods every day too.
They offer a full range of bakery goods, from hamburger buns and fresh breads to caramel rolls, elephant ears and long johns.
They are steadily adding to their offerings, thanks to Ellison's creative flair and Erickson's sound footing in the science of baking.
One thing always leads to the next. They created irresistible bagels, and then began dabbling in specialty-mix cream cheeses to top them.
They're not afraid to be sacrilegious either. Take a Scandinavian delicacy like a rosette, and top it with an orange peel and almond combination blended in a white frosting that is drizzled over it. You get "the freshest thing you could ever taste,'' said Ellison.
Erickson and her husband, Todd, have been operating the Meat Center in Appleton for five years. They've continued a long tradition in the community of offering locally processed meats.
Sales of the locally processed meats have grown every year, despite the economic challenges the community has faced with the closing of the Prairie Correctional Facility.
The Meat Center offered baked goods when the couple took over the business. The combination of bakery and meat center works well, and bakery sales have also grown alongside those of the meats.
Erickson said she was "maxed out'' with the demands of both the bakery and assisting her husband the butcher in the Meat Center. Taking on Ellison as a partner and creating the "Scandi Girls'' proved the answer.
It also proved the adage that the whole can be greater than the sum of its parts. Erickson said each partner offers different talents to the business in ways that improve it.
"We really love working together,'' said Ellison.
The two met and became fast friends when Ellison helped Todd Erickson's campaign for city council in Milan.
Ellison had moved to Milan just two years ago. She had "discovered'' Milan while running for the Independence Party's gubernatorial nomination years earlier. She left her job as a library paraprofessional with the St. Paul schools to make the move. Her husband, David, took on a position as an electrical technician in Benson.
Before her marriage to the Meat Center butcher, Erickson had been a teacher for 17 years. Most of those years were spent abroad with a network of Christian schools.
The Meat Center and the Scandi Girls Bakery and Catering remain small town businesses where employees are both family and friends. Todd Erickson's father Art, age 92, makes the traditional doughnuts for the bakery customers.
Offering great products, customer service, and hard work are still what matters most in small town retailing, said the partners. Their idea of customer service includes running out the door with the called-in order for the elderly lady who has trouble getting out of her car.
The two partners recently purchased a small wagon to bring the bakery on the road for events. They have also forged a relationship with a local vegetable grower to assure a supply of fresh and locally raised vegetables for the Scandi Girls catering business.
And all the while, they are experimenting with new opportunities. They've been amazed at the demand for many of the gluten-free goods they have developed in the bakery's ovens. They are exploring the possibility of developing their own line of gluten-free products.
"We're still in our infancy,'' said Erickson.