A startup, an expansion and a business seeking to move into new territory are the three finalists in the 2019 Destination Downtown contest.
All three business ventures are guaranteed prize money, but the ultimate contest winner will be chosen by the public during an online voting campaign this month. All three businesses are guaranteed at least $35,000 in prizes, and the people’s favorite business idea will win the grand prize package valued at $65,000.
The finalists for the final Destination Downtown challenge are: the Crow Wing Food Co-op, Loidé Oils & Vinegars and Minnesota Makerspace. The people behind all three ventures believe they can create a destination that will bring more people downtown. And they are dedicated to moving forward with their projects.
Crow Wing Food Co-op has an expansion plan, prepared by board member Jennifer Jacquot-DeVries, which proposes to move the cooperatively owned grocery store specializing in local, organic and allergen-free foods and directly linking consumers and growers, to a larger space with a modernized image. The co-op proposes to expand its retail space, prioritize pastured meats, organic products and locally grown produce. It would include a mini cafe and smoothie bar to provide more options for prepared food and beverages. Long term, the co-op wants to expand to build a full rentable commercial kitchen.
Loidé Oils & Vinegars, which originated in Nisswa, has already expanded to Walker, Bemidji and Monticello and is proposing to add a downtown Brainerd location with an expansion into high-end professional appliances, such as a steam oven, host appliance demonstrations and cooking classes with the potential to add cooking accessories, gadgets and utensils. Loidé Oils and Vinegars includes a tasting bar and gifts. It includes artisan extra virgin olive oils imported from all over the globe and aged balsamic vinegars from Modena, Italy. The six-year-old business is owned by Lois Hensel.
Minnesota Makerspace is the brainchild of Trevor Kruse and Chris Smith and proposes to provide multiple avenues as a retail consignment space, an avenue for do-it-yourself classes and creation space for members -- from repurposing furniture, for example, to creating items for holiday sales. It would serve as a business incubator for the entrepreneur, a space for hobbyists to work and create, and serve as a destination for those looking for a do-it-yourself experience complete with materials, tools and instructors.
The largest prize to date was compiled for this third and final Destination Downtown Business Challenge, which offers entrepreneurs a prize package to help them get the dream of their own business off the ground by offering support and mentors -- all aimed at helping them with a successful launch. The entrepreneurs are challenged with finding a location for their business in the designated downtown zone. They are offered assistance on nearly every front from creating a detailed business plan to marketing, designing a storefront, and choosing a suitable location.
Crow Wing Food Co-op
The co-op started looking at ideas a year ago and the timing just fell into place for an entry into the contest when a suitable building for a move also presented itself. And Jacquot-DeVries said she was able to devote time to preparing the business plan and use her skills as a grant writer and fundraiser. The vision is to create a cafe deli and juice bar that would increase the co-op’s grab and go convenience foods such as salads, sandwiches, smoothies and soups that provide healthy choices and support both the environment and local growers.
Customers do not need to be co-op members but there are incentives to do so. Jacquot-DeVries said they believe they have a strong proposal and their vision for a modernized co-op with greater community impact is possible. The co-op has been part of the community for 40 years and Jacquot-DeVries said there are multiple options to help people make the most of fresh foods by showing them what is possible for meals.
“Our co-op is just a fraction of what I think it can be and a fraction of what this community can support,” Jacquot-DeVries said. “I am very excited about it.”
Loidé Oils & Vinegars
Lois Hensel, owner of Loidé Oils and Vinegars, the youngest of 10 children, said she learned the value of a strong work ethic, accountability and honesty from her parents. With several stores in the state, she’s used to putting in the hours to make her growing business a success. Hensel said she believes there is a market here for high-end appliances and a demonstration area to keep those dollars here that are now leaving the community, particularly in an area with high-end lake properties. She envisions expanding on cooking classes and incorporating her oils and vinegars, and working with downtown eateries.
Hensel said the trends toward healthy eating have enhanced the retail market for the quality oils and balsamic vinegar. “When people taste it, they can taste the difference,” she said. Hensel also sells online to customers and noted her stores draw from seasonal and year-round residents.
“The complete concept for Loidé Oils & Vinegars is the offering of a way to consume clean, health foods,” Hensel wrote in her business plan. “... This expansion into downtown Brainerd will allow an opportunity to offer clients a ‘hands-on’ experience and the opportunity to physically work with some of the appliances.”
Kruse and Smith have been friends since the third grade. They built things together and played music and talked about going into business together from a young age. The two graduated from Aitkin High School in 2011 and each followed different paths in business, giving them experience in sales, marketing, graphic arts, information technology and education. They see all those experiences blending to help them create their own business. They believe people have a desire to be able to make things with their own hands and be able to share that experience with others, whether it’s a parent and child or friends looking for an event or a couple on a DIY date that is paired with a restaurant meal for an experience event.
“Looking at growth in the maker movement you can see a makerspace isn’t a new idea, but it is new for our area,” Kruse and Smith wrote in their business plan. “Brainerd lakes has a large array of tradesmen and avid ‘DIYers’ who would benefit substantially by having access to tools (such as a 3-D printer, laser cutters, drill press, band saw) and a learning environment that is affordable to the average individual.”
About the business contest
The community effort behind the Destination Downtown contest debuted in 2017, offering a value in excess of $50,000 to help the winning entrepreneur locate a business in downtown Brainerd.
The Destination Downtown contest was inspired by the Small Business Revolution initiative, championed by the Minnesota-based Deluxe Corp. A few years ago, Deluxe purchased Brainerd business Range.
Deluxe Corp. volunteered $20,000 and a grassroots community initiative started in 2015 fueled by a desire to encourage entrepreneurs and fill vacant storefronts downtown. There were already initiatives to help property owners rehabilitate buildings with grant dollars and private investment was working to transform spaces, but organizers said the business contest brought everything to a new level.
The local business community added $30,000 of value to create the $50,000 prize package that offered resources to help an entrepreneur get started with a goal of giving them advantages to help with first-year success. Some two dozen organizations are involved in the community effort.
With a final contest in 2019, the group decided three business challenges were enough and good headway was made through the effort both in encouraging people to reach for their business dreams and drawing the community’s attention to opportunities in Brainerd and those existing businesses in the city’s core blocks.
Cast your ballots
The voting window for the 2019 Destination Downtown Business Contest winner extends from midnight Nov. 11 to midnight Nov. 15.
Votes may be cast online at downtownbrainerd.org or by paper ballot at the Brainerd Lakes Chamber of Commerce, where a countdown clock is counting down the minutes to the voting period. Voters may vote for their favorite once each day.
The winner will be revealed Nov. 21 at the chamber’s Celebration of Excellence annual dinner event at Cragun’s Resort on Gull Lake.