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Progress Edition 2022: Soy wax candles mainstay of Sugarberry Creek Candle Co.

Craig and Karla Axleson sell a variety of natural soy products from their home-based workshop in Brainerd.

Three people hold wax products, small dog sits on lap of woman on the far right
Craig, left, Oliver and Karla Axelson show some of the products they make at Sugarberry Creek Candle Co. on July 19, 2022, at their Brainerd business. Pooch Izzy likes to hang around in the workshop with her owners.
Steve Kohls / Brainerd Dispatch
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BRAINERD — Experimenting with candles is nothing new for Craig Axelson.

At just 6 years old, he liked to buy used candles from garage sales and melt down the wax. He quickly learned that wax was not conducive for downhill skis but could be made into his own candles with the help of an empty soup can and a shoelace wick.

Then as an adult, he found candle making to be a fun way to stay connected with his growing children.

“We started off just making simple little candles, and it morphed from there,” Axelson said during an interview in July.

By December 2020, it had morphed into a full-blown business. It was then that Craig and wife Karla launched Sugarberry Creek Candle Co., a home-based business that sells reed diffusers, body and lip balm, room and linen spray, wax melts and — of course — candles.

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Products such as candles, wax melts, room spray, lip balm and a container of body balm sit on a wooden table
Diffusers, balms, sprays, wax melts and candles are the products created at Sugarberry Creek Candle Co. in Brainerd.
Steve Kohls / Brainerd Dispatch

Coincidentally begun when many others were starting side hustles to pass the time and earn extra income during the COVID-19 pandemic, Sugarberry Creek Candles was not pandemic-related but a culmination of years’ worth of experimentation and a little nudge from the kids.

The Axelsons, both Brainerd High School graduates, have other careers. Craig is an electrician and Karla is a communications coordinator at Brainerd schools. They have a blended family with five kids and two grandchildren.

“Thanksgiving, Christmastime, the kids would come up, and we would make candles, so it’s kind of a family thing,” Craig said. “And Karla’s kids had said that, you know, maybe we should start doing this for a business.”

So they did.

A green bowl is filled with white wax chips
A dish of raw soy wax chips before heating and melting is displayed at Sugarberry Creek Candle Co. on July 19, 2022.
Steve Kohls / Brainerd Dispatch

And the experimentation Craig started as a child continues today, evidenced by the various Post-it notes stuck to the walls in the Axelsons’ workshop, reminding them of what works and what doesn’t work.

“A lot of people don’t think there’s much that goes into it, but we have to do a lot of research into how to get it exactly right,” Karla said. “Like people say, there is actually a science to it.”

That science includes combining ingredients like natural soy wax and beeswax, lead- and zinc-free cotton wicks, essential oils and shea butter under the right conditions to create the unique Sugarberry Creek products.

Ambient temperature and humidity, along with the temperature of the wax at various stages in the process, all go into making a perfect product as well.

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“It’s a very temperamental process and painstaking,” Craig said.

A hand is seen pouring yellow wax into a clear jar
Pouring liquid soy wax into a beaker, Craig Axelson begins making one of the Sugarberry Creek Candle Co. candles July 19, 2022, in his Brainerd workshop.
Steve Kohls / Brainerd Dispatch

The specific lot numbers of soy wax make a difference, too.

“Lot numbers can vary with their formulas and how they make it, and sometimes you might get a bad batch, and you really gotta work hard to make that work with your product. It might not be as good as the last batch,” Craig said. “So sometimes you get lucky, and sometimes you don’t.”

Because of the variation in lot numbers, the Axelsons typically buy their soy wax in bulk, but they also have to be cognizant of its expiration, as soy wax — unlike paraffin wax — has a shelf life.

“There’s so many factors that come into play to try to get this to work the first time,” Craig said.

And when it does work, the Axelsons are left with their variety of products with signature scents inspired by the great Minnesota outdoors.

Chopsticks hold a candle wick in place as the yellow wax cools.
Chopsticks hold a wick in place while the liquid wax cools at Sugarberry Creek Candle Co. on July 19, 2022.
Steve Kohls / Brainerd Dispatch

Paul Bunyan Trail gives off a subtle pine scent familiar to those who enjoy hiking, biking and snowmobiling on the north-central Minnesota state trail.

Lakeside combines citrus, sea salt, jasmine, cedar and violet for an aroma of waves lapping against the shoreline at the cabin.

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“We try to create scents that somebody might encounter here in the Brainerd lakes area,” Craig said. “So people coming up from the Cities or different states can bring something home with them that reminds them of the Brainerd lakes area.”

Norway Pine, Campfire and Cabin Fever add to the outdoorsy mix, but the scents don’t stop there.

Bottles of solution are lined up on two shelves, each container labeled with a certain scent.
The basic solutions used to create the unique fragrances are stored on the shelf July 19, 2022, at Sugarberry Creek Candle Co. in Brainerd.
Steve Kohls / Brainerd Dispatch

Among the most popular scents is Blood Orange, one of the many fruit-scented products, along with Lemon Verbena, Pineapple Sage, Grapefruit Mint and Pomegranate Bitters.

Coffee Bean, Black Cherry Merlot, Mint Mojito and Pink Sugar give a little variety to the Axelsons’ stock, which consists of more than 40 scents.

New scents come out periodically, and so do new products, as fresh ideas consistently crop up.

“I’m the one who makes us do all the other things (besides candles),” Karla said, joking about driving her husband crazy with all her ideas. “I get really excited about it.”

White jar candles sit on wooden table
Candles at Sugarberry Creek Candle Co. are made with 100% soy wax.
Steve Kohls / Brainerd Dispatch

Items like body balms — which have been especially popular lately — are a good way for the Axelsons to use ingredients they already have.

“We did have to add the coconut oil and shea butter, but we already use soy wax, so why not use that soy wax in another product?” Karla said.

As the business continues to grow, Karla hopes to use the wax in even more products, with her sights set on beard balm, liquid hand soap and body wash.

Group candle making workshops are another goal for Karla, who would love to refurbish the old barn on her property to make it fit for events.

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“Right now it’s storage, but that’s my dream,” she said.

For now, though, the Axelsons will stick with the products they have, continuing to sell their candles, balms, sprays, diffusers and melts on their website, at local markets and through various lakes area businesses.

Local retailers with Sugarberry Creek Candle Co. products on their shelves include Lazy Days of Longville, Paws and Claws Animal Rescue and Resort, MN Traders Co., Cragun’s Resort, Olson’s Corner Keepsakes, Campfire Bay Resort, Loco Espress, Christmas Point and Dennis Drummond Wine Co.

The candles in stock at Paws and Claws in Hackensack have custom labels on them, giving the scents appropriate animal-themed names like Cozy Kitten. Customers can request custom labels for their candles, making the products as unique as the consumer.

Shoppers can also find the Sugarberry Creek label at Minnesota Makers shops in Minneapolis, Robbinsdale and Excelsior.

Or they can set up a time to visit the Brainerd workshop — not far from its Sugarberry Creek namesake where Karla’s parents live — to see where the magic happens and take their purchases home in a hand-stamped gift bag with the pinecone logo.

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For your information

Business: Sugarberry Creek Candle Co.

City: Brainerd.

Employees: Two.

Interesting fact: The Axelsons use whiskey old fashioned glasses as their candle jars. When the candles are used up, the containers can be cleaned out and used as drink glasses or for various other purposes.

THERESA BOURKE may be reached at theresa.bourke@brainerddispatch.com or 218-855-5860. Follow her on Twitter at www.twitter.com/DispatchTheresa.

Theresa Bourke started working at the Dispatch in July 2018, covering Brainerd city government and area education, including Brainerd Public Schools and Central Lakes College.
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