House of Jacobs still going strong, making and shipping holiday lefse
SPICER -- The House of Jacobs had one of its busiest days of the year on Monday, shipping boxes filled with lefse so they arrive in time for Thanksgiving.
Now they will move into a higher gear for the next month, preparing and shipping the Scandinavian holiday treat all over the country before Christmas.
The House of Jacobs retail store in Willmar may have closed in August 2008, but the company is still operating and busy as ever when it's time for lefse.
Owner Dennis Jacobs has continued to make and sell his popular product via the Internet from his Spicer location and at two local businesses. The Internet site also offers lefse mixes, lefse-making equipment and Scandinavian gifts.
"The Internet business is better this year than it was last year," Jacobs said last week in his office.
Last year, by the week before Thanksgiving, House of Jacobs had shipped 185 packages. This year, with a week to go, more than 200 packages had been shipped, and "it's really just starting to pick up now."
Jacobs isn't sure exactly why the Internet business has increased.
It probably helps that more and more people are getting comfortable with ordering online, he said. "We've noticed more of the elderly people are really picking it up."
The product is the same, and the recipe and ingredients haven't changed for years, with one exception. "We used to make them with lard, but we had to bow to the no-cholesterol gods," Jacobs said with a laugh. No one seemed to notice the difference when he switched to a low-cholesterol ingredient, he added.
Every one of the round, thin potato-based flatbreads is hand-rolled and cooked on a 400-degree grill in the Spicer bakery. Three people spend about five hours a day making one round after another, while another worker spends that time supplying dough balls to the cooks. Two others work in the next room, where the lefse is cooled on racks and then packaged.
"It's frozen immediately after it's packaged," Jacobs said. "You can't stack it otherwise." Lefse-making swings into high gear in mid-September. Earlier in the season, the lefse is sold within a month of being frozen. By Christmastime, it is only a few days old when it's sold.
Before he developed the type of production he has now, he used to run out, Jacobs said. Then, he added, "You saw things about people you didn't like to see."
House of Jacobs does not sell lefse from its bakery in Spicer. The lefse is available at two retail outlets in the area: Cornerstone Coffee in the Skylark Mall in Willmar and Heritage Falls Market in New London.
"We try to keep it available for local people," Jacobs said.
Business has been brisk at both locations, he said. Cornerstone, for example, picked up 600 rounds of lefse last week and needed to restock with another 600 rounds the next day.
House of Jacobs does a brisk wholesale business, too. Some churches and civic groups have ordered the business's lefse for large dinners for years. Last week, a Norwegian organization from Sioux Falls, S.D., picked up 1,800 rounds of lefse.
It was hard to close the downtown Willmar retail store, but it was necessary, Jacobs said. Business had dropped off as downtown Willmar changed, and he didn't think it would improve.
"You miss all the people you used to deal with," he said, but he has adjusted to the change. "I have a little bit more time to concentrate on this," he said.
Jacobs said he felt lucky to sell his building in downtown Willmar soon after the store closed. A family purchased it and fixed it up. Now, it's a bakery.
"They really did a nice job on that building," he said. "It looks really nice -- they're happy, and we're happy."
Jacobs said he has enjoyed his 20-plus years in business. "It's been fun; it still is fun," he said. "I don't see any reason to quit any time soon."
Visit the House of Jacobs Web site at www.houseofjacobs.com.
The site includes descriptions of the items needed to make lefse, including this line about a turning stick: "24 inches long, ¾ inch wide, painted handle. Not much you can say about a stick. In the right hand, it works great."