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  • Writer's pictureNielsen Studios Inc

American Faces No. 84

We’re in The Butchery, an independent meat market in Maple Lake with owner-entrepreneur Doug Lindenfelser. He’s calling out to customers by name as they come in, and breaking off our conversation every few minutes to run back behind the counter and help fill orders. It’s a warm, welcoming atmosphere, with beautiful meat displays and a nostalgic feel. Just the look of the place stirs thoughts of family, friends and backyard BBQs and makes me want to fire up my grill.

Doug looks the part too, with his checkered flannel shirt and butcher’s apron – he’s clearly a man in his element; enjoying the moment, breathing the bacon smoke, living the dream.

Who’d have guessed that just three years ago, by Doug’s own admission, he “knew zero about running a butcher shop, or cutting meat, or making sausage.”

“I was working as an art director and designer in a large corporate wholesale business, and I just hit a wall. I needed to make a change,” he says.

Doug’s an artist and a creator, and he enjoys serving people. He knew he wanted to build his own business, likely something involving retail, where could apply his creative skills in design and marketing and connect with customers.

“I didn't care what it was,” says Doug, “It could have been a t-shirt store or a hotdog stand, whatever. I just wanted to do my own thing.”

The quaint roadside meat market in Maple Lake came up for sale, and Doug took the leap. In 2020. It was a tough year to launch a new business. Doug rolled up his sleeves and dove in with a passion.

“First thing I did was re-brand the business. I changed the name, put out a sign that said ‘new ownership’ and redesigned the whole shop,” says Doug, “There was an opportunity to put my own stamp on it, totally create the retail experience and market the shop the way I wanted.”

Of course, there were a few things to learn about running a butcher shop as well. It’s a small operation, bringing in wholesale boxed meat from local suppliers, then cutting and preparing the retail products – smoked meats, sausage, bacon, steaks, roasts and about anything you’d want to throw on a grill. Doug was able to purchase the rights to the previous owner's award-winning sausage recipes, which gave him a good start. And he called in some expert advice from a 40-year butcher shop veteran. It turns out the meat business runs in the family.

“My Uncle Gordy runs Hackenmueller's Meat Market in Robbinsdale,” says Doug, “He talked me through a lot of questions as I was getting started. But at first he said, ‘Don’t do it’ – it’s too hard, it’s tough work, long hours, you won’t have time for anything else. He was right, it’s hard work.”

Doug says the community rallied to the new business, responding to his customer-centered efforts to provide a great retail experience, exceptional product quality and friendly service.

“We really hang our hat on service and taking care of people,” says Doug.

Along the way, Doug has secured relationships with local suppliers, allowing The Butchery to offer high-quality locally grown products, an appealing draw for discerning local customers.

Doug says all their pork is sourced from local producer, Glencoe Pork Company, and most all their beef is sourced wholesale from nearby Midwest suppliers. They also have a unique beef product only available locally.

“We recently partnered with Eden Valley Wagyu – the only source of certified 100% Japanese Wagyu beef in Minnesota – to be their exclusive retailer,” says Doug, “You can only purchase their product directly from their farm, or from us.”

Today, The Butchery of Maple Lake is hopping, with displays packed with fresh products, and customers coming in every 5 minutes. Doug now employs seven other people (four full-time), and keeps the shop running full-speed six days a week through the Summer.

“Starting Memorial Day it’s game-on, with Summer grilling season and all the cabin traffic,” says Doug, “I dropped down to five days a week for now, just so we can catch our breath.”

He may be trying to catch his breath, but Doug is clearly having fun.

“I always told myself that when I start my own business we’re going to have fun,” says Doug, “I really enjoy the people – my team, and my customers – building those relationships. And I know my customers appreciate that I appreciate them.”

Doug’s story is great encouragement for anyone wanting to pursue their passion. He’d probably tell you to take the leap and chase your dream. But if you’re wanting to launch a business he offers this simple advice: be ready to give it everything you’ve got.

“When you own your own business you have to put in the time and the work,” says Doug, “You get out of it what you put into it.”

Wherever you may be, do what you can to encourage and support your local entrepreneurs or small business owners. And if you're out Maple Lake way, stop in to The Butchery, grab some steaks or sausages for the grill and say hi to Doug. We’re pretty sure Doug’s welcoming smile, the great grilled meal, and the alluring scent of bacon smoke will bring you back. Grill on!

Photos by: Nielsen Studios

Writing/editing by: Scott Whitman

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  • Writer's pictureNielsen Studios Inc

Updated: Mar 1, 2023

American Faces No. 83

John Parks loves the hunt. There’s a conspiratorial gleam in his eye when he talks about his latest find. His friends and fans call him Johnny Junk.

“People started calling me Johnny Junk when I was a kid,” says John, “The guys in the local gas station would give me old spark plugs and junk parts. I was always dragging stuff home.”

His dad loved old cars. His mom collected antiques. “I didn’t have a chance,” he says.

Johnny Junk & Co. in downtown Anoka, Minnesota, looks like a man-caver’s dream, full of vintage beer and gas station signs, car memorabilia, old RC airplanes and antique “big boy toys” of all kinds. The store’s an homage to John’s long-time passion for automotive and motorcycle artwork and the small-town culture of yesteryear.

“As a kid, I’d go with my dad to car shows and swap meets and ask him to drop me at the gate. I’d buy stuff right off the trucks as they came in, picking the cool stuff before anyone else saw it,” says John.

Eventually he’d collected so much that John’s family suggested he open a store, just to help clear out the stash. But he says as much comes in the doors as goes out. “I have more stuff now than when I started,” he says.

John’s regular gig is commercial design, plus hand-lettering and custom pin-striping on hotrods and motorcycles. He also makes customized period signage, re-creating the signs his customers grew up seeing in their hometown or the family cabin.

The Johnny Junk & Co. store, filled with John’s custom replica artwork, beloved automotive memorabilia and vintage signs, is an easy blending of old and new. It has a comfortable nostalgic vibe that invites folks to hang out and visit for a while, like they used to.

Maybe that’s why John claims the store is “just a hobby.”

“I like taking time to hear people’s stories about the stuff they bring in. I probably don’t spend as much time as I should negotiating prices,” says John, “If I really had to make a living at it I wouldn’t be having as much fun.”

As you go about your day, take time to stop and visit with someone new, take in the moment, and hear a story. You may just meet a guy like Johnny Junk, and find the treasure of friendship in surprising places.

Photos by: Nielsen Studios

Writing/editing by: Scott Whitman

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  • Writer's pictureNielsen Studios Inc

American Faces No. 82

If you’ve been following this American Faces series for a while you’ve probably detected a few common themes (yes, Shawn has an obvious photographer crush on dudes with beards, but we’re not talking about that). Hopefully you’ll have noticed we love stories about artisans, makers and creators. And we’re drawn to hero stories, where someone conquers the “monster” to achieve their dream, or maybe just survives to fight another day. And we’re always fans of everyday American heroes – folks making a difference in simple ways, making the world a nicer place for all of us.

This post (American Faces No. 82) is one of those rare stories that features a person who’s “all that,” bringing all the best plot-lines together in one package. Meet Ted Bell, founder of Northstar Canoes in Princeton, Minnesota.

If you’re a fan of canoe racing, or someone who geeks out on the art and science of building hand-made composite canoes, you’ll already know about Ted Bell. Ted is the guy you’d want to autograph your canoe paddle, or his rookie year canoe-racer card, if they have those. He’s kind of a big deal.

Ted is known as a champion solo canoe racer and a pioneering canoe-builder, but despite a lifetime of running out in front the pack, both on the water and in the design shop, Ted attributes his success to the team he’s gathered around him. “I’m just a canoe builder,” says Ted, “It’s all about surrounding myself with really good people.”

Walking through the Northstar Canoes shop it feels like a family business, and in many ways it is. Ted’s long-time friend and fellow canoeing legend, Theodore "Bear" Paulsen, serves as General Sales Manager. Charlie Thompson, the company’s Technical Director, has been designing and building canoes alongside Ted for years. A few of the folks in Ted’s shop have been with him for decades. For all of them, it’s more than a gig. These folks are artisans. For Ted and his core team, it’s a full-on passion.

“I just love what I do, I love paddling, and I’ve surrounded myself with people who share that same passion,” says Ted, "While I've learned a lot over the years, what's just as important is this team here and what we’ve done together – always working on the next best thing, each year refining on what's come before."

Ted first honed his canoe-building craft at Wabash Valley Canoes in Crawfordsville, Indiana, and eventually bought the company. He sold Wabash Valley around 1986.

Ted moved to Minnesota where he spent a number of years at famed adventure outfitter Midwest Mountaineering in Minneapolis, growing their paddling and watersports business. But before long, Ted was back in his garage, tinkering with new canoe designs, and building canoes to take Boy Scouts to the Boundary Waters.

It was about this time that with the help of his friend and renowned outdoor writer and wilderness canoe guide, Cliff Jacobson, Ted purchased Cliff’s namesake “CJ Solo” mold from Old Town Canoes. With that mold, and designs he retained from Wabash Valley Canoes, Ted was back in the canoe-building business.

Ted officially formed Bell Canoe Works in 1988, and left Midwest Mountaineering in 1995 to run Bell Canoe Works full time. The company soon began designing recreational and touring canoes in addition to racing craft, quickly earning a reputation for building fast, light and highly stable composite canoes for paddlers of all types. After a near 20-year run of building world-class composite boats, Ted sold Bell Canoe Works in 2006.

But the passion for canoe building kept calling, and after a five-year hiatus, Ted was soon back in his garage, building canoes again. He thought it would be a hobby business.

“I thought I’d maybe build 30 canoes a year with a few friends, make some money to pay for some adventures,” says Ted, “But once people heard I was building boats again, it really took off. One of my first orders was for 50 canoes. We had to ramp up pretty quickly.”

Ted re-launched his canoe works as Northstar Canoes in 2012 and “it’s grown faster than Bell Canoe did,” says Ted.

Northstar Canoes currently employs about 25 people full-time, running their shop at full capacity, bringing new designs to the market, and selling about 1,800 hand-made canoes each year through a network of about 30 dealers across the Northern US, Canada, the UK and Finland.

Ted and his team at Northstar Canoes view their mission as helping other people discover the joys of paddling.

“We want to make canoes that create great experiences for all kinds of paddlers, whether experienced backcountry veterans, or beginners on their first Boundary Waters trip,” says Ted, “Our boats are known for stability in rough water, and for durability.”

Ted, Charlie and Bear all know that having a great experience in a canoe is also about aesthetics. To that end, every Northstar boat is a work of art.

“We design for performance, but we also care about how the boat looks and feels, the finishing details. Our boats look different, with our exclusive black and yellow weave fabric, and the carbon fiber or wood gunnels. We take pride in the details,” says Ted.

Ultimately, Ted Bell wants the rest of us to join him in discovering a lifelong passion in paddling.

Ted says, “I love building boats. I love canoeing. I’ll be doing this until I die.”

To stoke your passion for paddling, visit the Northstar Canoes web site for information concerning canoes and how composite boats are made. Then, pick up a paddle and go test one! If you really want to see and learn all-things canoeing, join the Northstar team at Canoecopia 2023 – the “largest paddlesports consumer event in the world,” March 10-12 in Madison, WI.

Photos by: Nielsen Studios

Writing/editing by: Scott Whitman

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