And the winner is ... Knotty Pine Bakery. Bakery wins $50,000 prize in Destination Downtown Business Challenge
Marie Kirsch's vision to create a modern take on her grandmother's kitchen for a downtown Brainerd bakery is the winner of the Destination Downtown Business Challenge.
Picked from more than 70 applicants, Kirsch was one of three finalists for the second community-supported business challenge with its $50,000 prize to help start her business in downtown Brainerd. The winner of the second downtown business challenge was announced at the Brainerd Lakes Chamber of Commerce Celebration of Excellence award dinner Thursday, Nov. 15, at Cragun's Resort on Gull Lake—and the night came with a last-minute twist.
When she first moved back to the lakes area, Kirsch moved in with Joy Potthoff—her grandmother and her baking inspiration. Her grandmother was at the award dinner, standing and watching while Kirsch hurried to the stage to accept her win.
"That's my granddaughter," Potthoff said as she watched.
Kirsch thanked the chamber, contest organizers and the judging panel for helping her to bring her vision for a bakery to downtown Brainerd. She said it was so inspiring to see all the community partners come together to help small business. Kirsch said she'll be locating her business in a downtown Brainerd building owned and renovated by Joe and Nick Phelps.
"I'm so excited to be working on this next stage of my business," she said.
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"I'm so excited to be working on this next stage of my business." - Marie Kirsch
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Kirsch grew up in Two Harbors and worked for Betty's Pies at the age of 14. She thanked her parents, who picked her up after her baking work shifts, and noted her mom encouraged her to get into 4-H, where she started baking.
"And, of course, my grandma Joy who is such an inspiration to me both in the kitchen and in life," Kirsch said.
She said her grandmother taught her the kind of life skills that you can only learn by example—always working hard but working smart, never giving up, always believing in yourself.
"And last, but not least, always use butter—never margarine," she said, getting laughs and enthusiastic applause from the crowd.
Kirsch said she feels lucky for all the role models in her life and lucky to be carrying on that legacy by owning a business in the Brainerd lakes area.
"I will see you all at the grand opening of Knotty Pine Bakery this summer and we'll always have a piece of pie waiting for you," Kirsch said.
Matt Kilian, Brainerd Lakes Chamber president, invited the runners up—Mark Nesheim, Sourdough Sam's Cook Shanty; and Lindsay Topp, BluPaisley Boutique—to the stage.
"You worked so hard. Am I right when I say that all 600 people in this room right now want these two businesses downtown as well," Kilian said, getting applause from the gathering. "I thought that might be the case."
He asked each what is next for them.
Topp said she feels like she already won, gaining so much experience and meeting so many great people. She said she didn't know there was all the support out there and, realizing it now, she will utilize it to expand her business. However, with two young children at home, she said she isn't in any rush to open another business.
Nesheim said after doing all the work on the business plan, he'll probably just tweak it a little bit and there are real possibilities for an expansion at the Brainerd Lakes Regional Airport, where his Wings Cafe is located. Nesheim said he'll probably focus on doing something with his business plan at the airport.
Kilian noted last year they were fortunate to have the prize sponsors step forward with a $10,000 prize package as an incentive for the runners up to move forward.
"I'm sorry to say we couldn't do that this year," Kilian said. "But instead our prize sponsors pooled their resources and they want to offer you $17,000 each. So I'm going to let that simmer. I won't put any pressure on anybody."
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For more photos, go to https://bit.ly/2Th0FxR.
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About Knotty Pine Bakery
In 2016, Kirsch started her home-based Knotty Pine Bakery with baked goods made from scratch using locally sourced and sustainably raised ingredients. Working in Chicago, a trip back home for her grandmother's 80th birthday in Nisswa was an inspiration, seeing family come together and share a meal. She became focused on one day opening her own bakery. And not one to make such a plan and let it gather dust on a shelf, Kirsch moved forward. She left Chicago and returned to the Brainerd lakes area. After her day job with the University of Minnesota Extension Service, she baked. Farmer's markets, first one and then a host of them, became spots where she could market her goods with her cottage food business.
The local connection from farm-to-table is one of the things Kirsch sees as setting her apart and helping her business succeed with competition coming from big box retailers, grocery stores and coffee shops.
In an interview before the winner was revealed, Kirsch said a focus on fresh ingredients, sustainably raised and not an overly processed product also makes it something people can enjoy without feeling they are moving away from goals to be healthy.
"When we say it's good food we like it to be good in the whole sense of the word," Kirsch said.
Kirsch sees a downtown bakery as a gathering spot, a location where people can come together, a local hangout. For people who are picking up baked goods to take home, she relishes in the fact they will be enjoying them for special events and celebrations—and regular nights when people can enjoy good company and good food.
The seat of the pants decision to come back to Minnesota should be looking better by the minute.
Destination Downtown I
Brenda Billman-Arndt's bath boutique, Purple Fern Bath Co., was the winner of the first Destination Downtown Business Challenge in 2017. The boutique opened in May on Laurel Street.
The other finalists last year, Lisa and Bill Desrocher's microdistillery, or a tasting room, that offers to create an experience not unlike an upscale coffee shop atmosphere but with spirits, and Ed Mattson's vision to expand on the Last Turn Saloon and Eatery to create a draw for downtown Brainerd to host events, offer a brew pub and expanded restaurant, both reported they would proceed with their business plans win or lose. Both efforts were surprised with a prize package $10,000 during the award night. The first contest inspired 49 applications.
About the 2018 contest
• More than 70 entrepreneurs submitted applications for the $50,000 Destination Downtown Business Challenge prize to help start their business in downtown Brainerd and gain help from advisers to create a business plan.
• The three finalists were Marie Kirsch, Knotty Pine Bakery; Mark Nesheim, Sourdough Sam's Cook Shanty; and Lindsay Topp, BluPaisley Boutique.
• The winning business—Knotty Pine Bakery—was announced at the Brainerd Lakes Chamber of Commerce annual Celebration of Excellence dinner Thursday, Nov. 15, at Cragun's Resort on Gull Lake.