Sum of Your Business: Sno Pac

SnoPacPeas

Sum of Your Business: Sno Pac Foods / Pete Gengler, President
Interview and introduction by Benji Nichols • Originally published in the Summer 2016 Inspire(d)

SnoPacLogoThe Sno Pac brand of frozen fruits and vegetables is well known here in the Driftless Region. Maybe you’ve made a trek to the Sno Pac factory to stock up on bulk frozen favorites. Or you know a local farmer who has grown organic vegetables for the Caledonia, Minnesota-based business. Or perhaps you’re just familiar with the little rectangular bags of frozen goodness stocked up at your local grocery store or co-op. But what you may not realize is that the owners, the Genglers – four generations of them, in fact ­– have always been steadfast in their support of good, organic food. That’s right: Sno Pac was “organic (even) before organic was cool!”

SnoPacPackagingAround 1900, Sno Pac started as a lumber and ice harvesting operation. It eventually transitioned to become one of the region’s first refrigerated locker plants, where local folks could rent one of 1,000 freezer spaces to store their food. It was here that Leonard Gengler started raising and processing berries and vegetables to be frozen for sale. From the beginning, Gengler found that his produce tasted best when farmed without commercial chemicals and he embraced sustainable land use, rotation of crops, and soil conservation practices. These values and practices have helped to set Sno Pac products apart, even as organic agriculture has grown by leaps and bounds in the recent years.

Sno Pac now farms over 3,000 acres of their own produce, and also contracts with surrounding organic farmers for certain products. A very few limited items come from outside of the region, like blueberries from Michigan, or cranberries from northern Wisconsin.

Cool Sno Pac Facts:

• In the early Sno Pac days, people had to come directly to the plant in Caledonia to purchase frozen vegetables and fruits – in bulk – and you can still do that today, although bagged purchases are more the norm these days!

• At one time, Sno Pac also processed poultry, which was packed in shaved ice harvested from the Gengler Ice Pond, hence the ‘Sno Pac’ name.

• Through the mid 1900s the Genglers also ran a Land ‘o Lakes route all over the tri-state region. It was through this route that even more customers became aware of Sno Pac frozen products and the quality that they represented.

GenglersWith the Sno Pac business having been handed down the Gengler line – from founder Leonard, to Ray and Darlene, and now to company President Pete and Vice President Nick – it is safe to say this local processor will continue producing quality frozen organic vegetables and fruits whether its “cool” or not!

Sno Pac President Pete Gengler (pictured above at right – left is Pete’s dad, Ray) was kind enough to sit down with us for a few minutes at the modern packaging facility in Caledonia, Minnesota to tell us what has made this multi-generational business work.

Name: Pete Gengler, Sno Pac Foods President
Age: Sno Pac is – give or take – eight decades old!
Business: Fourth Generation Organic Fruit and Vegetable Processor

Tell us about the “leap” Moment. How did you get your start?

All I ever wanted to do was to work in the business. I grew up riding the Land o’ Lakes route with my Dad, and was probably in the fifth grade when I started picking strawberries for my Grandpa. It was an easy decision to continue working in the business.

What’s the best thing about being the boss?

I like to make things happen – and you have to! Seeing the success, and also the challenges, of the organic market.

OrganicBeforeOrganicCoolHow about the worst?

24/7 Responsibility. The financials, weather, finding good help – the same things that everybody deals with.

Was there ever a hurdle where you just thought “I can’t do this?” How did you overcome it?

Certainly there have been times when things haven’t been as good as others, or as much money at the moment, maybe you didn’t pay yourself, or you work so much other parts of your life suffer. But you just have to see the light at the end of the tunnel and do what you have to do.

Any mentors or role models you have looked up to?

My Grandpa Leo – he was the modern start of the company, and my dad, Ray. My mom was also in the offices for years. It’s a family operation.

What’s the one thing you wish you had known before you started?

If you get too busy on the day to day you never make time for tomorrow. Someone once told me that, “Most people are too busy working to make any money.” I kind of like that saying.

How do you manage your life/work balance?

In the past it’s been hard to manage – it can be tough in a family business – seven days a week, 20 hours a day during the season, but you make time when you can.

What keeps you inspired? Any quotes that keep you going?

We’ve always had the idea that we’ll keep the family business going – pass it on to our kids and keep going. Some people thought Grandpa Leo was crazy following the Rodale organic methods back when, but he was really just ahead of his time. We plan to keep on providing the Midwest with what we do well, and we’ve embraced the slogan “organic before organic was cool”!

Driftless Day Trips: Cassville / Potosi

DriftlessDayTrip_GuttenbergTopPhoto

By Aryn Henning Nichols • Photos by Inspire(d) unless noted • Originally published in the Fall 2015 Inspire(d)

WhatsDriftlessDayTripDriving south down Highway 52 toward Guttenberg, Iowa, it’s hard not to let out a little sigh. The valleys and farmland and big blue sky make the miles tick by faster than you’d hope.

The town of Guttenberg doesn’t actually come into view until the very last minute. No matter which way you enter, you come up over a hill or to a spot where the trees open and you’re greeted by this sweet little town way down in the valley, and truly amazing views of the Mississippi. Gotta get a pic? Scenic lookouts on the both the north and south side of town offer great selfies opportunities (don’t hate – we’re big fans of the family selfie!).

SPOTlight: Guttenberg

Guttenberg is snuggled right up to the Mississippi – the historic main street, River Park Drive, runs along the bank of the river. We packed a picnic and made a stop at a park near Lock and Dam 10. It was super fun to watch the boats and barges pass through the dam as we munched on peanut butter and jelly sandwiches. There’s also a viewing platform available for an even closer look.

Picnic

History buffs can check out the National Register of Historic Places Lockmaster House Heritage Museum nearby. It now only houses memorabilia – it’s the last remaining lockmaster house on the Upper Mississippi River.

South of Lock and Dam 10, just down River Park Drive, is the Aquarium and Fish Hatchery (generally open 9 am – 3 pm May – October). It’s a quaint little one-room affair, operated by biologists with the Iowa Department of Natural Resources. Exhibits include a large selection of live Mississippi River creatures – catfish, turtles, mussels, trout, and other fun fish – plus some cool historical displays.

GuttenbergBand_SheilaTomkins
Photo courtsey Sheila Tomkins

Guttenberg is a German town through-and-through, and celebrates GermanFest each fall September 23-24, 2016 marks the 26th anniversary of the event! The family-friendly Fest includes an arts and crafts market, biergarten, kraut cook-off, hog roast, homemade beer tasting, live music, a 5K walk/run, wiener dog races, and more! www.guttenbergiowa.net

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From there, we were off to catch the ferry. We had hoped Roxie would also catch a nap, but alas…it wasn’t meant to be (yet). Just a few miles south of Guttenberg, there’s a sign directing you left to the Cassville Ferry. You’ll take some gravel that’ll seem almost like dirt roads…but know you’re on the right path. Just enjoy the scenery (and stop stressing already)!

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SPOTlight: Cassville Ferry

After passing by small farms and large fields, you’ll finally arrive at a gravel parking area next to the river – this is the Iowa side of the Cassville Ferry!

The Pride of Cassville Car Ferry – the oldest operating ferry service in the state of Wisconsin – connects two National Scenic Byways; the (Wisconsin) Great River Road and the Iowa Great River Road. It began in 1833 and continues today, making the same trip back and forth across the Mississippi.

The very first governor of Wisconsin, a then 23-year-old Nelson Dewey, made his first trip across the Mississippi to reach the tiny village of Cassville. He settled there in 1836 and attempted to turn Cassville into a metropolis. It never quite made it – Cassville is just shy of 1,000 people – but it’s a cute little town and the Ferry is definitely a fun way to get from Iowa to Wisconsin (or vice versa).

FamilyFerryWe had Roxie press the button and soon saw the ferry chugging our way. You drive aboard, give the friendly employees your fare, and enjoy the ride!

Details:
Cassville Ferry
Fall hours: September 8 to October 25
Friday, Saturday, & Sunday
10AM to 8PM
(7 days a week Memorial Day to Labor Day – check website for current hours)

From Cassville, (Wisconsin now, remember) we headed southeast on the Great River Road to Potosi. It was time for a beer! (Also a nap, but alas…not yet.)

Potosi

According to Wikipedia, Potosi is known as the “the Catfish Capital of Wisconsin,” because of its annual Catfish Festival in August, but when you arrive in Potosi, most would say it’s the Potosi Brewery (and The National Brewery Museum and Library) that you notice first. Another one of those pretty little towns nestled in the beauty of the Driftless Region, Potosi is truly a village – fewer than 700 people call it home – but that doesn’t mean it’s not busy at the main attraction, Potosi Brewing.

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SPOTlight: Potosi Brewing

The Potosi Brewing Company began in 1852. At its peak, it was the fifth largest brewery in Wisconsin, shipping beers such as Good Old Potosi, Holiday, Garten Brau, and Augsburger throughout the United States. But business slowed, and it closed its doors in 1972. In 1995, after a terrible fire that took out almost a whole block of buildings, a man named Gary David bought the property and began restoration, rebuilding for three years before finally being able to assess the brewery itself.

In 1999, after a prompt by his wife, Madonna, David proposed a community meeting in hopes of bringing the public in on the restoration process. The meeting was incredibly well attended by the public and brought forth suggestions as well as support, and eventually led to the 2000 formation of the Potosi Brewery Foundation. In January of 2001, the Potosi Brewery building was donated to the Potosi Foundation, and the brewery property was officially transferred. Following a $7.5 million restoration, the Potosi Foundation, a 501(c)(3) non-profit organization and sole owner of the Potosi Brewing Company, reopened the brewery in 2008. The Potosi Foundation’s mission is to support historical and educational initiatives, and charitable causes.

To cap things off (pun!) in 2004 the Potosi Foundation was selected by the American Breweriana Association to be the home to its national museum.

Potosi Brewery now crafts and distributes a variety of beers throughout the region. We had some yummy tasters while Roxie checked out the koi pond, and the pub serves up tasty food ranging from brats and burgers to flatbreads and pasta. The building itself is beautiful and fun to wander around, and you can also tour the National Brewery Museum.

Beerkoipond

The National Brewery Museum is a joint venture between the Potosi Foundation and the American Breweriana Association. It showcases a collection of beer bottles and cans, glasses, trays, coasters, advertising materials and other items relating to breweriana collectibles.

FYI: Breweriana commonly refers to any article containing a brewery name or brand name, usually in connection to collecting them as a hobby.

P.S. There’s also live music through mid-September out on the Potosi patio!

Scenery_Potosi

Back in the car, we headed toward Dubuque. NOW it was time for Roxie’s nap (thank goodness).

Along the way:
Dickyville Grotto
One Catholic Priest, Father Matthias Wernerus, built this amazing place between the years 1925-1930. There’s no official record, but they say nearly 200 tons of rock were gathered from the Dakotas, Iowa, and nearby Wisconsin quarries to build it. Most of the site’s structures are covered in shells, stones, tiles, wood, glass, gems, and geodes donated by area parishioners.

IowaWelcome

Dubuque

While this could certainly be a one-day trip, with an almost-three-year-old in tow, we decided to spend the night in Dubuque. There are several great options. Our favorites are the historic Hotel Julien right downtown and the Grand Harbor – right on the riverwalk – this place has a riverboat-themed waterpark and is a fun option for a family overnight (especially in the cold months)!

If you do opt for the overnight, make sure to check out our Dubuque Driftless Day Trip for details on what to do while you’re in town (Highlights: Mississippi River Aquarium, Fenelon Elevator, L. May Eatery, and more.)

The next day, we got back on the road, this time headed northwest to check out another spot off the beaten path: Park Farm Winery.

Along the way:
Field of Dreams movie site – You know the story: If you build it, they will come. And apparently, so will the tourists and locals, for many years!

ParkFarmVines

SPOTlight: Park Farm Winery, Bankston, Iowa

Once again, we’ve taken you on a path that seems a little too far out of the way. And it’s kind of true. Because once you arrive at Park Farm Winery, you’ll feel like you’ve been transported to another country! There’s the trademark Driftless rolling hills and valleys, but with the bonus beauty of rows upon rows of grapes. It’s just lovely.

ParkFarmOutsideParkFarmInside

Established in 2005, Park Farm is a family owned and operated winery near Bankston, Iowa. The chateau-inspired vineyard is home to a tasting room, wood-fired pizza oven, and event venue. The 11-acre estate grows specific ‘cold climate’ grape cultivars that produce great wine and withstand the harsh winters of the Upper Midwest.

Folks can grab some wine tasters (or just a glass of whatever they love), head out on the balcony, and enjoy the view while munching on a wood-fired pizza. It’s a pretty great spot.

Pizza

Check website for current hours.

It was finally time to head north, back to Decorah. We had a blast on this Driftless Day Trip and hope you are inspire(d) to head out on your own. Hit us up at on social media @iloveinspired if you do, and stay tuned for more Driftless Day Trips! Enjoy! – Aryn (and Benji and Roxie too)

Ice Cream, You Scream: Driftless Treats

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by Sara Friedl-Putnam • Photos by Inspire(d)
Originally published in the Summer 2014 Inspire(d)

Deep in the recesses of the Library of Congress lies a treasured document authored by Thomas Jefferson – and, no, it’s not a copy of the Declaration of Independence.

This document, handwritten by Jefferson himself in the 1780s, calls for “two bottles of good cream,” “six yolks of eggs,” “a half-pound of sugar,” and “one vanilla bean.” It is, according to the library, one of the first recipes for ice cream recorded in the United States.

Today, more than three centuries later, the International Dairy Foods Association ranks Americans as the top consumers of ice cream in the world, with more than 48 pints of ice cream downed per person per year. So pervasive is our passion for ice cream, in fact, that Ronald Reagan declared July as National Ice Cream Month exactly three decades ago.

Luckily, area residents will find plenty of ice cream shops eager to satisfy their cravings for this delicious frozen concoction throughout the summer months. Whether your preference is soft-serve or hand-dipped, chocolate or vanilla, go on, read on, and then treat yourself to a cup or cone of ice cream at one (or all!) of the following Driftless Region establishments.

WhippyDip

The Whippy Dip
121 College Drive, Decorah, Iowa
Owners: Rosie and Greg Carolan
Open seasonally

It may not rank up there with Thanksgiving or the Fourth of July, but make no mistake about it: Opening day at the Whippy Dip is among the most anticipated days of the year in Winneshiek County.

Owner Rosie Carolan estimates a couple thousand people indulged in a soft-serve ice-cream treat – cookie-dough Tornado, anyone? – at the Whippy Dip on opening day last March. “We had long lines stretching both directions along College Drive for hours,” she says.

There’s nothing fancy about the Whippy Dip, but therein lies its (considerable) charm. Whether you crave vanilla or chocolate (or both!), served in a cone or cup, this iconic Decorah business – marking 60 years this past spring – sticks to the basics, dishing up ice cream plain (or with any number of toppings) sure to please even the most discriminating palates. “We’ve heard very few complaints,” says Carolan, who, with her husband, Greg, has owned and operated the Whippy Dip since 1985.

According to Carolan, the Whippy Dip’s fans have a former Decorah milkman, Derwood Baker, to thank for opening the shop back in 1954. “He delivered milk early in the morning and then worked here in the afternoon,” says Carolan, the fifth Whippy Dip owner. And while the ice cream machines, menu, and milk supplier have changed over the years, the bricks and mortar have remained the same.

“We have a great building in a great location,” she says. “We’re near the campground, the bike trail, the movie theatre, Luther College, the local schools, the swimming pool, and, of course, the Upper Iowa River.”

Still, location – or the contagious Whippy Dip nostalgia – doesn’t entirely account for the establishment’s staying power. “We use premium dairy products to ensure our ice cream is rich and creamy; we offer other fare like tacos-in-a-bag and foot-long hotdogs; and we have unbelievable help,” says Carolan, who employs nearly two-dozen high school students as well as a handful of adults. (Her husband, Greg, power-washes the premises every morning and serves as its go-to mechanic.)

Carolan admits that those sunny summer Friday nights when lines stretch down College Drive do generate a bit of stress, but that comes with the terrain of running such a well-known and loved business.

And the feeling is mutual, says Carolan: “I love running the Whippy Dip – I love my employees, I love our customers, and I am very grateful to be doing what I am doing.”

SugarBowl

The Sugar Bowl
410 West Water Street, Decorah, Iowa
www.sugarbowlicecream.com
Owner: Craig Running
Open seasonally

Craig Running knew a good thing when he saw it.

A longtime Decorah resident – he was raised in the town – Running believed buying retail space along the town’s main Water Street was a “win-win situation” when he seized the opportunity in 1999.

“I tore down the rental building that was here and then spent eight years designing and building this space,” he says of the Sugar Bowl, the balconied, two-storied ice cream parlor he opened in 2008. “I thought that there was a niche market for quality, hand-dipped ice cream, and I was pretty sure it would work…who doesn’t love ice cream?”

Who indeed – especially when that ice cream is made by the Chocolate Shoppe, an award-winning producer of hand-dipped ice cream headquartered in Madison, Wisconsin.

According to Running, it was more than serendipity that led him to select the Chocolate Shoppe as his ice cream vendor. “I had a conversation with a man who made it a point to mention that the best ice cream he had ever had was from the Chocolate Shoppe,” he says. “I called up the company and told them I was opening an ice cream shop, and they immediately sent 16 different pints to my front door. By the time I polished off the first pint, the decision had been made.”

Running currently dishes up 24 different flavors of the Chocolate Shoppe’s ice cream from his dipping station, with choices ranging from Old Fashioned Vanilla to Kitty Kitty Bang Bang (cheesecake-flavored ice cream with raspberry flavoring, Oreos, and chocolate chunks). The most popular flavors? Zanzibar Chocolate (containing three kinds of cocoa) and Zoreo (made of Zanzibar ice cream, marshmallows, Oreos, and chocolate chunks).

And while ice cream remains the star of this Water Street establishment, its décor – described by Running as “industrial deco” – has garnered plenty of admirers as well.

The bright-white building contains a treasure trove of antiques, from a 1952 Whizzer motorbike to a Popsicle Red Ball Express train (one of only about 200 made). “It was a long process, but I enjoyed acquiring these items,” he says. “I had collected and restored cars, trucks, and motorcycles for a long time so it wasn’t such a stretch to start collecting and restoring things that were displayable here.”

As Running envisioned when he opened the Sugar Bowl, the combination of rich-and-creamy ice cream and eye-catching antiques has proved irresistible for many a Decorah resident and visitor. “It’s been quite successful,” he says with a smile. “And business gets better every year.”

HomesteadDairy2

Homestead Dairy
850 Rossville Road, Waukon, Iowa
www.wwhomesteaddairy.com
Owners: Tom Weighner, Paul Weighner, and Tom Walleser
Open year-round

Homestead Dairy has dished up ice cream for less than three years, but it already serves a frozen treat literally fit for a king.

The dairy had been making ice cream for only a few months when Luther College’s general manager of dining services presented a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity: Would the Homestead Dairy accept a commission to make cinnamon ice cream in honor of Norway’s King Harald V and Queen Sonja for an all-Iowa-foods banquet?

They jumped at the chance.

“It was pretty nerve-wracking,” admits Angela Weighner, who makes the dairy’s ice cream using only milk produced on its two Northeast Iowa dairy farms.

She need not have worried: King Harald gave the cinnamon ice cream an unequivocal thumbs-up at a news conference held at the Vesterheim Norwegian-American Museum a few hours after the banquet.

Few would disagree with that assessment. The dairy has created 40 ice cream flavors to date. “We take the time to ensure we produce a quality product,” says Weighner, who credits the rich taste and creamy texture of its ice cream to the fact that it uses pasteurized, not homogenized milk, meaning the milk is less processed. “We also figure out the right amount of flavorings and mix-ins and make only small batches at a time.”

Those batches are sold at several restaurants (including the Pedal Pushers Café in Lanesboro, Minnesota) and stores throughout the Driftless Region, and, of course, at the ice cream parlor the dairy opened in Waukon in 2012. In addition to seating both inside and out, the parlor offers 16 different flavors in its dipping station – coffee toffee is Weighner’s favorite – and most of its other two-dozen flavors (including the cinnamon!) are available in take-home pint cartons too. The dairy also sells fresh creamline milk, cheese curds, butter, block cheese, and ice-cream cakes.

“It’s hard work but very fun to come up with new flavors that people really like,” says Weighner when asked the best part of running an ice-cream shop. “There’s really nothing that compares to seeing families spending time here together enjoying our ice cream.”

Pearl_icecream

The Pearl Ice Cream Parlor
207 Pearl Street, La Crosse, Wisconsin
www.pearlstreetwest.com
Owners: Michelle and T.J. Peterslie
Open year-round

Not all that long ago, bikers were a familiar sight at 207 Pearl Street in downtown La Crosse. “It was a very popular biker bar,” recalls T.J. Peterslie. He and his wife, Michelle, bought the building in 1990. “On a nice Saturday afternoon, it wasn’t unusual to see more than 80 choppers parked outside.”

Today, the location attracts a very different clientele. Gone are the choppers. In their place? Tables and chairs packed with ice cream lovers of all ages enjoying a scoop from The Pearl Ice Cream Parlor.

Peterslie describes the transformation as a labor of love.

“Ice cream parlors were a prime social meeting place from the 1800s into the 1900s,” he says. “We wanted the Pearl to be a place where people could bring the whole family, enjoy a treat, and step back in time to when things were simpler and less stressful.”

To evoke the feel of an old-fashioned ice-cream parlor, the Peterslies scoured the Midwest, picking up the tables, chairs, mixers, sundae dishes, dipping cabinets (circa 1940s), and a bubble-gum machine that all help give the Pearl its unique charm. “You can’t just order these things,” he says.

It was Peterslie’s late father, Oscar, who created most of the ice cream flavors – from Mississippi mud and butter pecan to the bestselling vanilla – as well as the fudge and other sweet confections for which the Pearl has become so revered in and well beyond La Crosse over the past two decades. (The Peterslie’s daughters – Dani, Azia, and Tara – have followed in their grandfather’s footsteps and make much of the ice cream and candy sold at the Pearl these days.)

“My dad was adamant that we serve homemade ice cream, and he is why the Pearl is here,” he says. “We enjoyed designing the Pearl, but once we opened it, running it was like running any other business. My dad took ice cream-making courses at the University of Wisconsin in Madison, researched recipes online, bought our ice cream-making equipment down in Texas, and was just magic working behind the counter.”

While remaining tight-lipped on their ice cream making process – “We can’t really talk too much about how we do what we do,” he says – Peterslie says they’ve reaped nothing but rewards since entering the ice cream biz more than two decades ago.

“It’s a happy business,” he says. “When customers come in, they have the attitude that they are going to treat themselves to something good, and you in turn feel good knowing you are selling them something that they really want.”

ALSO WELL WORTH THE TRIP

Barrel Drive In
2014 Highway 150S, West Union, Iowa
Open seasonally

Top off a burger and fries with a shake, sundae, or cone served by carhops at this classic drive-in restaurant.

Country View Dairy
15197 230th Street, Hawkeye, Iowa

Wonder where the popular Yotopia Frozen Yogurt in downtown Iowa City, Iowa, procures its frozen yogurt? Look no further than Country View Dairy, purveyor of many flavors of yogurt found in stores throughout the Driftless Region.

Culver’s
904 Short Street, Decorah, Iowa

It’s not just the home of the ButterBurger. This restaurant serves fresh soft-serve frozen custard with a variety of toppings.

Happy Joe’s Pizza and Ice Cream
105 East Water Street, Decorah, Iowa

Sundae anyone? Follow up a tasty pizza with your choice of classic hand-dipped ice cream flavors and treats.

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Sara Friedl-Putnam, an avid ice cream lover, thoroughly enjoyed doing “research” for this article and highly recommends readers sample a treat from all of the friendly Driftless Region establishments profiled in it.