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Reflection- A Year at NWS, Pandemic Edition

These days, it’s not uncommon for any of us to reflect on the past year and be wide-eyed and possibly fatigued at how much has changed in our worlds. The past year at Northern Waters certainly wasn’t anything we could have anticipated nor did we have a map to navigate what would come to be a new way of doing business for the foreseeable future. On March 11, we shut our doors to in-deli customers but remained open for pickup and delivery orders. “It was the slow season”, we said. “We’ll be okay”, we said. “We’ll make it work.” While our internal affirming statements came true, we really had no idea what was in store and the challenges we would collectively overcome. 

“The business coming in, it’s not going to last,” we said, as people stayed home and we watched our favorite eating establishments forced to close up. We were so wrong. Suddenly it was summer. And it lasted. And it lasted and it lasted some more. Our customers all showed up by supporting our business with local pickups for our smoked salmon or deliveries of sandwiches to new home offices and socially-distant cubicles.

Meanwhile up on the third floor, our usually-sleepy-in-spring mail order department started looking more like the holiday season. Boxes of smoked goodness lined our hallways waiting for the big brown truck to come. Was this December all over again? What is happening? 

We adapted by the second. We expanded our delivery zones. Our HR manager and owner would run deliveries. The culinary crew in the smokehuas proper would grab a delivery going to Gary or Deep Congdon. We juggled the phones and the online orders. The response from our customers was incredible.

The small eating area inside our deli transformed into a staging area for pickups and deliveries in March of 2020. Photo courtesy of Derek Montgomery Photography

We tried to plan for the time being only to discover we needed to tweak the plan. And then make a new plan. And then another. And maybe some more adjustments here… or there. And suddenly we are over a year into life in a pandemic world. And guess what? We are still adapting. It’s not a reflection of our inability to commit, rather, learning from all of our customers on the best way to deliver our products and quality service. The Smokehaus is a place of a constant effort to get it right. 

I write this post with much gratitude for all our customers who helped keep The Smokehaus open for business. I would be remiss if I also didn’t acknowledge the incredible group of people I get to work with everyday. They took on the challenges in such admirable, whatever-it-takes attitudes. It was remarkable.

There have been times over the last year where I would pause and wonder what the magic was that helped us come together to accomplish what we have this past year. A lifelong student of studying team and workplace cultures, it was fascinating. Some of my coworkers nerd out about music, some over fishing, some over food. I nerd out about what makes people come together to do remarkable things. We have great people with great character that work here. They are people committed to their craft and each other. But we have something a lot of places don’t: Eric Goerdt.

Eric, our founder and owner, is responsible for this magic. He is the secret sauce. He brings a relentless level of energy and positivity to each department– every. single.day. It is difficult for me to eloquently describe Eric’s effect on this business and after trashing five paragraphs trying to describe this, I realized someone much more skilled with pen and paper has already done so. Steve Hoffman wrote a piece on The Smokehaus back in 2018 for The Growler. He says:

In Eric Goerdt’s vision, we live in a world where it is possible for a tiny deli counter, with next to no seating, in a mixed-use warehouse building in Duluth, to sell enough carefully made, world-class salumi, smoked fish, and cured meats each year to reliably employ 43 Minnesotans on an ongoing basis. All it takes is virtue.

What that virtue consists of, in Eric’s case, is a relentlessly cheerful insistence that employees be treated well, so that they are content in their jobs, so that, in turn, they stay around long enough to become knowledgeable, so that they will take informed and attentive care of their customers. As a result, those customers keep coming back, because they never get a single hint from the other side of the counter of rote, fast-food sullenness.

Eric Goerdt (right) and employee Steve Mann (left) decide on what orders they were going to be delivering Wednesday, March 18, 2020 in Duluth, Minn. as our regular dining area was converted to a space to organize delivery and carryout orders. The previous day, on orders from governor Tim Walz, all restaurants were ordered to cease dine-in services as part of efforts to combat the spread of the coronavirus. Immediately, Northern Waters Smokehaus owner Eric Goerdt went to work on a new business model to reflect the new reality facing the business with the goal of continuing to employ every worker who would normally be working. Photo courtesy of Derek Montgomery Photography.

As we prepare for the busy summer season ahead, we know we are not past the challenges we’ve faced this past year. If we’ve learned anything, we know there will be more. But we know that we have a crew of people ready to find ways to make sure you can still experience The Smokehaus with the same enthusiasm and attention that you received when you used to be able to walk through our front doors and gaze into our deli cases full of products we are so proud of— because behind all of us is a guy named Eric who humbly and enthusiastically gives us the best of himself everyday.

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Cold Turkey Sandwich Kit

Cold Turkey Sandwich Kit

Introducing the third in our series of sandwich kits: The Cold Turkey!

Cold Turkey Sandwich Kit

The Cold Turkey is our second most popular sandwich, after the unstoppable Cajun Finn and just ahead of the Northern Bagel (both of which we also offer as kits!). It’s not only a showcase for our maple-sage smoked turkey (obvy.), but our signature crayo spread. (We mix together walnuts, garlic, and dried cranberries with southern-style smooth and creamy Duke’s mayo.) Add on a couple slices of Swiss and a stack of fresh greens (held inside our Haus-baked ciabatta) and you have yourself a double handful of sweet and savory perfection.

Want to take something great even further? It is possible. Add your own “Jean Jacket.” That’s Sriracha and cilantro, if you’re not already in the know. The added punch of spice and brightness will open up a whole new world of flavor possibilities.

Cold Turkey Sandwich Kit

The kit also comes with chocolate chip cookies from our friends at 3rd St. Bakery, assembly instructions and tips, a Smokehaus tote bag, and should leave you with a little leftover crayo to enjoy later. Available for two, and for four. Enjoy a taste of the Zenith City, wherever you are.