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Entrepreneur Deb Olson takes her former café menu on the road in west central Minn.

Deb Olson opened The Lunch Box to take fresh and local foods to new places. She now delivers fresh and healthy luncheons to venues ranging from small corporate meetings to large gatherings. So far, she says, the customer response has been very encouraging. Tribune photo by Tom Cherveny

MONTEVIDEO — Deb Olson is not the first entrepreneur to realize that there is a growing lunch crowd in search of healthy, fresh and visually enticing foods.

For two years, she and her daughter operated a Winsted café that made its reputation by offering exactly that recipe for customer satisfaction.

But Olson, founder of The Lunch Box in Montevideo, is among the first to realize that it’s time to bring the delights of fresh, from-scratch meal preparation out of the café and into the board room, the bank’s meeting room, the summer picnic grounds, or wherever people happen to gather for business or pleasure in rural Minnesota.

“It’s fresh made, it’s healthy, and it’s delivered. I bring it to you,’’ said Olson of what The Lunch Box offers.

Its focus is on catering for groups of five or more, primarily during the work day, but evenings as well. The menu features fresh and exciting wraps and sandwiches, salads, soups, and fresh-baked breads.

Customers must contact her the day before the event for all orders.

Olson started the business last August. A few months later, the Montevideo Chamber of Commerce recognized it as the “emerging business” of the year.

Olson said customer response has been very encouraging. She’s delivered fresh and healthy luncheons to venues ranging from small corporate meetings to large gatherings, and received the most important compliment of all: Repeat business.

There is no doubt that people enjoy healthy and tasty food. Businesses that are hosting meetings or events are also realizing that what’s being served reflects on them, she noted.

There’s some evolution ahead for the business.

Her goal is to focus on offering “farm to fork’’ foods, using as many locally raised foods as possible, and as fresh as possible. In the summer, her goal is to serve vegetables and greens picked only hours before they are served.

For Olson, 55, creating fresh, delicious and aesthetically appealing dishes is about passion. “I so enjoy it. It’s kind of like you’re a painter, you really get into it,’’ she said.

She loves creating her own sauces and variations on favorite dishes and soups. A basil tomato has become her signature soup. Fresh sliced, premium meats and from-scratch sauces of her own creation define her wraps and sandwiches.  

She has always worked in food sector jobs, starting as a “salad girl’’ when she was 15 and growing up in Norwood-Young America. She didn’t venture into business for herself until she and her daughter opened “The Road House Coffee Shop’’ in Winsted in March 2009.

She sold the business two years later when her husband, Robert, was laid off from his job. He took a new position in Montevideo, close to his hometown of Appleton, and the couple made the move.

Olson said she quickly realized that Montevideo has a great mix of restaurants and cafés offering tasty fare. She saw her opportunity on the flip side: Bringing the best of meals — and the pleasant atmosphere you expect in a café or restaurant — on-site to company meetings, family get-togethers and other events.

She believes Montevideo has the critical mass of customers to support the venture. It’s a regional employment and retail hub, she noted.

She also sees it as a community that is in the vanguard when it comes to an appreciation for local and healthy foods.

It all adds up to the ingredients Olson believes she needs for business success. Yet the most important ingredient of all might be this: “I love to do this,’’ she said.

The Lunch Box can be reached at 320-269-8031 or on Facebook:

Tom Cherveny

Tom Cherveny is a regional and outdoor reporter with the West Central Tribune in Willmar, MN.

(320) 214-4335