72-year-old rolling pins business operates in Jenkins
Lokstad Rolling Pins keeps a tradition alive.
JENKINS — Michael Baumann and Sara Lokstad may have only come to the Jenkins area in the last 10 years, but they brought with them a 72-year tradition handed down through Lokstad's family.
They make rolling pins.
"My great-uncle started it back in 1950," Lokstad said. "He started by selling a rolling pin to a neighbor and from there the business grew."
"He kind of modeled it after the one his mom brought over from Norway," Baumann said. "Sara's family emigrated, I believe in 1888, from Norway through Canada and down. He made (the neighbor) one and she really loved it. Farming was hard, so he decided to put the family farmland into government programs and make rolling pins as a business."
John Lokstad had been a machinist in the Navy. He used his experience to build his own machines. He made a sanding machine that would put the correct, smooth bevel on his handles; a machine to cut and shape the handles and the wooden pegs that held them in; a weighted press to put the handles in place permanently; various wood turning devices; and perhaps most creative was the tool he built from a hand-cranked turntable spring and a saw on a track.
That tool is used for making crosshatched lefse rolling pins. As the saw is running, the person operating it turns a crank, which moves the saw along the track. Then the spring from the turntable advances the pin one notch, where the next groove can be cut in a precise pattern, one line at a time all the way around the rolling pin.
At home in Newfolden, Minnesota, John made four varieties of rolling pins - smooth rolling pins, grooved rolling pins, crosshatched rolling pins for lefse and hard tack rolling pins with an aggressive crosshatching.
John ran the business for many years.
The company built a reputation over those years, being highlighted in newspapers and magazines. The company was even recognized alongside giants like General Mills and Pillsbury at one time as a Minnesota industry leader.
John built it up and hired workers, though his shop was barely bigger than a shed, but smaller than a garage. It was a labor of love for the founder.
"I think he was almost 88 years old," Lokstad said. "He did it until he couldn't do it anymore with his health. He loved it and he had people come from all over."
John didn't have any children of his own, so when he passed away in his early 90s, David Lokstad, Sara's father, took over the business.
"He ran it for many years even though he was a busy farmer," Lokstad said.
In 2017, the possibility of passing the torch first arose.
"My mom approached us because my dad struggled with some health issues and they didn't want the business to go under," Lokstad said. "They were thinking of Mike, because after we moved up here, Mike had stayed home with our kids and they were getting into first grade through kindergarten."
Baumann had worked at Best Buy for many years, and Lokstad worked in health care. Some time after moving to Jenkins, their daughter was diagnosed with cancer, so Baumann stayed home to help care for her.
At first, it seemed like an ideal time to take over the family rolling pin business, but by the time the shop was set up and all the equipment was ready, it was 2020 and the COVID-19 pandemic threw everything for a loop.
"We kind of stuck to online for a little while," Lokstad said. "In 2021, we really kind of started to get our feelers out a little more."
The slower start did have its advantages, because like the business itself, they had inherited the original homemade tools.
"There were no manuals for me," Baumann said. "All this stuff is handmade. Having a slow first year was like a learning curve and it was a blessing."
After all that time, the pins are again rolling. Their booth was visible along the Paul Bunyan Trail in July at the Stars and Stripes Days and Bean Hole Days events in Pequot Lakes, and at various other festivals and craft shows.
This weekend, Sept. 10-11, they'll be at the Little Falls Arts and Crafts Fair.
"We're doing a lot of shows," Baumann said. "This year we had a lot of shows. We had 16 shows. We're doing shows now until the end of the year. We have some big shows coming up."
There are also online sales through Lokstadproducts.com and Etsy. They are trying not to get too busy, however, because if they run the equipment too much something might break, and parts for homemade equipment can't just be found at a local hardware store.
"We're still learning, but that's the part I love," Lokstad said.
The couple added items to the business. Some additions were due to demand. Others are to ensure that no materials go to waste.
In the case of a rolling pin that develops a crack, for example, the bad part is milled flat and those pins might become centerpieces with a place for candles or other decorations. Some damaged or cracked rolling pins become other rolling pins.
"If we don't (make centerpieces), I actually turn them into smaller diameter rolling pins," Baumann said. "I don't do many of them because we sell about six of them per year. We're known for our large diameter pins."
Most Lokstad pins are three inches in diameter. Many commercially produced pins, and those that competitors make, are approximately two and one half inches in diameter.
Their larger pins are, once again, done to preserve tradition, though there is one other reason.
"It's like a wheel," Baumann said. "The larger the diameter, the easier it rolls. Your rolling pin should always do a little of the work for you."
Recently, they added coasters cut from scrap to their merchandise, as well as shirts and aprons. One of their biggest additions so far are their lefse sticks.
Lefse makers are a big part of the Lokstad customer base. One of their pins is specifically designed with lefse in mind, and their shirts and aprons advertise that use. So it is only natural that they would eventually add lefse turning sticks to their product line.
The company's roots are incredibly important to Baumann and Lokstad. In a world where few even remember what hard tack is, Lokstad is making sure there are pins to make it.
"We're one of the few manufacturers of hard tack pins left in the United States," Baumann said. "Most companies stopped making them because they don't sell many. We continue making them because of heritage and tradition. We want to make sure that tradition and heritage keeps getting passed down through the generations."
That is a large part of the company. Not only do they still manufacture John Lokstad's classic Scandinavian line of rolling pins, each pin also comes with the Lokstad family recipes for potato lefse, flat bread, sugar cookies and hardanger lefse wrapped around them.
The heritage of not only the rolling pins, but also the traditional lefse is so important to them that at some point Lokstad Products might have a line of handmade lefse for sale to preserve that history as the population that makes lefse, even locally, ages.
"It's important to pass these traditions down," Baumann said. "If we don't pass them down, they get lost."
Some day, Baumann would like to expand by hiring staff and possibly making duplicates of his machinery so he can either increase production or retire the original machines while they still work.
Doing so would also make finding replacement parts easier, as the machinist who helps make the new machines would be able to make new parts from the original plans.
Lokstad's Potato Lefse
- 2 cups mashed potatoes
- ½ teaspoon salt
- 1 tablespoon shortening
- 1 ½ cups flour
Mix all ingredients except for half of the flour. Wrap the dough in plastic and allow it to develop in the refrigerator overnight.
Add half of the flour when rolling out the dough very thin with a die cut rolling pin. Dough may be formed into a long roll and then cut into pieces large enough to make lefse to fit the size of the baking surface.
Bake on both sides to a light brown on top of a hot stove, lefse plate or griddle. Use a long stick to aid in turning lefse.
Travis Grimler is a staff writer for the Pineandlakes Echo Journal weekly newspaper in Pequot Lakes/Pine River. He may be reached at 218-855-5853 or email@example.com.