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Stauber stops by Victual in Crosby, speaks on small business development

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Congressman Pete Stauber, R-Duluth, speaks with the founders of Victual Wednesday, May 29. Drawing from his own background as a proprietor of an ice hockey equipment company in Duluth, Stauber often lauds small business as "the engine of our economy." Gabriel Lagarde / Brainerd Dispatch2 / 6
A storefront view of Victual on West Main Street in Crosby. Incorporated into a brownstone, Victual looks to establish a thriving lactose-free dairy market. Leaning on old-fashioned craftsmanship and artisan charm, owner Paul Kirkman said the business intends to show a lactose-free ice cream distributor can meet a need and produce great product as well. Gabriel Lagarde / Brainerd Dispatch3 / 6
A front-facing shot of Victual, with the entrance door opening out into Main Street, Crosby. Opening sometime mid-June, Victual looks to be an eatery focused on artisan dairy products such as cheese and ice cream featuring a lactose-free bent. Gabriel Lagarde / Brainerd Dispatch4 / 6
Victual founder Paul Kirkman scoops ice cream for samples during a tour of the new eatery Wednesday, May 29. Kirkman, who described running a creamery as a fine-tuned process constantly in flux, said Victual will feature super premium ice cream, much in the vein of Häagen-Dazs. Gabriel Lagarde / Brainerd Dispatch5 / 6
Utilizing a structure dating back decades and abandoned since the 1980s, Victual founders Paul Kirkman and spouse Paul VanderWaal transformed the space from a failing building into a vibrant venue ready for business. Gabriel Lagarde / Brainerd Dispatch6 / 6

CROSBY—If Crosby-Ironton's renaissance is a blueprint for future economic developments, it only stands to reason elected officials should want to get the scoop on how businesses tick in Cuyuna country.

Consider Congressman Pete Stauber, R-Duluth, a part of that club. Stauber stopped by Victual on West Main Street in Crosby the morning of Wednesday, May 29. It was another opportunity for a small business owner to connect with driving forces in the economy, said the 8th District rep, who sits on the U.S. House Small Business Committee.

Victual will feature artisan cheeses, charcuterie (French for cured meats and pâtés), packaged gourmet foods, specialty distilled liqueurs and fine wines, dinnerware, cocktail accessories, gifts and what owners described as crafted premium ice cream from Rave Creamworks that may invoke comparisons to Häagen-Dazs. It's owned by Paul Kirkman and Paul VanderWaal, both of Remer.

Stauber's entourage navigated cardboard boxes pressed flat on the floor, plastic-wrapped doors and half-packaged kitchen appliances—evidence Victual is still being pieced together, even if pristine hot pink ceilings and gleaming hardwood floors lend the venue a sense of charm and decadent verve.

Incomplete or finished to a fine shine, it's a far cry from what the red brick building used to be. Painted over cracks and indentations—left by design, Kirkman noted, as a sort of memento—hint at a history of vacancy going nigh on 40 years, which is to say decrepit and abandoned since the days of Ronald Reagan.

Since moving in, it's been more than a year of renovating the place, Kirkman added, working with a failing roof and portions of the building that had to be gutted and virtually rebuilt from scratch to make the place serviceable.

Expressing admiration for Kirkman and VanderWaal's vision and their transformation of the derelict property, Stauber said the two should look to record the process so it can be passed on to other prospective entrepreneurs.

"Memorialize from start to finish," Stauber said. "Because you're going to be able to help other people or give that road map to help them connect with economic development people. It's very valuable."

Kirkman agreed and noted Victual came about, in large part, because of community, a network of business-minded people who coaxed the project along in terms of funding capital, technical expertise, management and marketing. Partners in this endeavor included the Brainerd Lakes Area Economic Development Corp., Sprout in Little Falls and the Agricultural Utilization Research Institute out of Crookston.

"There was this circle around me that was just amazing," Kirkman said. "And it was people you wouldn't expect."

During much of the meet-and-greet, Stauber and Kirkman discussed regulations, permits, acquiring capital, securing grants, marketing and economic development organizations—elements of the trade Stauber, a part-owner of a hockey equipment outfit, said every small business entity needs to account for to be viable.

"It's a small business in Greater Minnesota that's going to succeed," Stauber said of Victual as he walked down Main Street. "There's a lot of effort and a lot of people that came together to help Paul and his partner build this up. Small business is the engine of our economy. If you look down this way, it's all small business."

Stauber—echoing comments by Kirkman—noted it's about establishing a community of businesses and connecting prospective entrepreneurs to that network to overcome obstacles for any venture.

Slated to open some time during early to mid-June, the business represents another point of economic revitalization for the blue-collar community in recent years, Kirkman said, after thinner decades precipitated by the decline of taconite mining in the 1960s to 1980s.

Since 2012, Crosby-Ironton has seen the addition of more than 15 businesses, much of it tied to the evolution of the Cuyuna Country State Recreation Area into an international hub for mountain biking.

Along with looking to establish a lactose-free ice cream (or, down the road, lactose-free dairy) market presence in central Minnesota, Kirkman said Victual will employ 10 people at any given time—workers ranging from part-time ice cream scoopers, to specialized positions dealing with artisan food products, such as cheesemongers. There is the possibility for more expansion and more jobs, Kirkman added, if suitable facilities can be furnished for an on-site dairy plant.

Gabriel Lagarde

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