EVERYDAY PEOPLE: Tapping into a true state resource
There’s something about the sound of a crackling fire that makes it officially fall in Minnesota. So much so that people around the country are willing to pay just to have some good ol’ Minnesota firewood in their own homes.
The Wilczek family of Paul’s Firewood in Little Falls is ready to arm their customers with plenty of crackling firewood — even if their customers are a long way from Minnesota.
Paul’s Firewood, owned and operated by Sharon Wilczek and her children — Norine, Lori, and Paul, Jr. — ships Minnesota wood all over the country from their world headquarters just off the highway in Little Falls.
“It’s a Minnesota thing,” Sharon Wilczek said. “People like to take it home with them.”
Sharon runs the day-to-day operations while her daughters help with sales and billings and Paul manages the yard, meets with customers, or drives the deliveries.
“It’s fun work. I’ve always enjoyed it,” Paul said. “Everyday is something different.”
Paul’s Firewood started nearly three decades ago in the Wilczek family backyard. Sharon Wilczek said the family built their first home in a wooded area of Little Falls, which meant lots of excess trees.
“We started using it to heat our home, and then just giving it away” Sharon said. “It’s just progressed as we’ve gone on.”
Sharon said in the early days, being part of the “family business” was a form of punishment for her kids, who got to stack wood as a consequence for their bad behavior.
“Paul (Jr.) always liked it,” she laughed.
The Wilczeks have come a long way from chopping wood in their own backyard. The majority of their wood ends up in the Brainerd lakes area, St. Cloud and the Twin Cities but they also ship their wood products all over the country with everything from standard firewood residential orders, aesthetic wood for decoration, and commercial kitchen use. They even have some pretty big name commercial clients including Famous Dave’s Legendary Pit Bar-B-Que.
“We’re just a little company in Little Falls, Minnesota,” Sharon said. The Wiczeks do the bulk of their residential orders through their website www.firewood.com.
Product demand has meant moving on from cutting down their own logs.
“It’s a whole other separate business if we were cutting our own wood,” Paul Jr. said. Most of the wood comes from state land in northern Minnesota and is transported to Paul’s Firewood to be sized down to logs or chips for fireplace or oven use.
Sharon said much firewood they sell to residential customers is birch, because it grows primarily in the Midwest states.
“People like the way white birch logs look in a fire place, and the way wood crackles and the fire dances over the burning birch,” she said. “It’s the Cadillac of wood.”
In addition to birch the Wilczeks also process just about any kind of wood their customers could possibly want including oak, walnut, maple, cherry, mesquite and hickory.
“There’s just about any variety you want,” Paul Jr. said. “If there’s a special request, we’ll go out and find it.”
One of only a few woods the Wilczeks won’t sell is ash because of disease attacking the tree population. Sharon said state regulations require them to heat-treat the wood they sell in order to kill any pests or disease that might cause an issue, particularly in wood leaving Minnesota.
“We don’t sell green wood,” she said. “(Regulations) are much more detailed, especially through the DNR, than they used to be.”
Making a family business out of a product that helps provide food, warmth, and a sense of family for their customers, is something the Wilczek family take very seriously. “More people are staying home,” Paul said. “People are enjoying their own backyards.”
In 2007, the Wilczek family, and their family business, were shaken by the tragic loss of their son and brother, Lewis. Lewis Wilczek was murdered by a former acquaintance who attempted to steal his identity.
“It was really tough,” Sharon said. “It was very much a hardship that we went through.”
Lewis was also the main driver and a salesperson for Paul’s Firewood. Sharon said he was a very hard worker and a huge asset to Paul’s Firewood and is missed not just by his family, but by an entire community.
The family and the business have moved forward and Paul’s Firewood continues to grow. The company employs 15 full-time and part-time workers, and eventually Paul Jr. plans to take the helm of the company.
“I started very young,” he said “I’ve grown up with this.”
Paul said he hopes to see the family business continue to increase its presence in commercial kitchen firewood and eventually ship to residential customers coast to coast.
“Keeping people warm and cooking food,” he said. “That’s what we do.”
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SARAH NELSON KATZENBERGER may be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org or 855-5879.