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A Brief History of Northern Waters Smokehaus

1998 Eric and Lynn Goerdt, having met and married in Sitka Alaska, found Northern Waters Smokehaus in Superior Wisconsin. Eric had been experimenting with the craft of smoked fish for many years at this point – he used to smoke fish and meats in his homestate of Iowa, even – but perfected his unique kippering style in Alaska.

Eric initially smoked fish in small batches out of a business incubator (The Superior Business Center) and sold exclusively via mail order and to wholesale clients such as Allouez Marine (run by Jim Banks and Bill Rogers), The Park Bench, and Twin Ports Brewery (now Thirsty Pagan Brewery).

2001 – 2002 Eric and Lynn open a retail location in the Dewitt Seitz building. Offering smoked fish, picnic bags, crackers, olive oils, balsamic vinegars, and a world-class cheese case, the store was a hit for gourmands. Two sandwich prototypes were offered: a bagel with cream cheese (no toaster, Lender-style bagel, plain cream cheese, and a scoop of flaked smoked salmon) and a salmon wrap (salmon pate, diced peppers and cucumber in a vinaigrette, wrapped in a giant tortilla). Employee Count: 7

2003 The smokehouse moves production to the basement of Dewitt Seitz. The move to Minnesota enables the Smokehaus to start producing meat products and sell them in the retail area. Early examples include Polish, andouille, and ham.

2004 A small sandwich menu is developed – The Gorilla, Cajun Finn, and Pastrami Mommy are all offered, as is the Dewitt Setzer (for $4!). It’s a year of trial and error – many free sandwiches are given, meat and fish are sliced to order, there isn’t a sandwich line, and orders aren’t even written on tickets.

2005 The idea of the special is introduced – featuring a Polish sausage on Mondays, bison brisket on Wednesdays, and a gigantic bison burrito on Tuesdays. Mail order continues to be the busiest time for the Smokehaus, with December offering one third of the overall yearly revenue of the company.

2006-2009 The sandwich menu begins to take off. After many years, the Duluth News Tribune runs a story on our sandwiches and we start to see a spike in business, with the spike going off the charts when the Star Tribune writes a glowing essay about the business. The first Tall Ships event also lends a dramatic amount of business to the Smokehaus. Innovations include: moving the cheese case to accommodate a sandwich line, writing sandwich orders down for sandwich makers, developing portions of protein, making prep and stock lists, and hiring extra people to work during busy times.

Other developments include:

  • Boxed lunches and platters are also offered at this time, and Eric makes deliveries.
  • Mail order becomes an orphaned department, moving to many locations during December and staffed by smokers, Eric, and deli staff alike.
  • Catering begins to take off, with salmon platters and cheese boards custom-built by customer request.
  • Eric begins to experiment with dry-cured salami, enters the Salamini in a contest sponsored by Seattle’s esteemed deli Salumi, and wins first place in the professional challenge.

2010 A defining year for the Smokehaus. National exposure from Food Network’s Diners, Drive-Ins, and Dives gives the company a huge boost – sales of sandwiches, salumi, and whitefish (the products featured on the show) are up 50%. The staff doubles, and the triage formation assumes the position for the next several years.

2011 Working fast and furious!

2012 We are forced to prep after-hours in the Smokehaus!

2013 We renovate the former Taste of Saigon storage space into a prep/delivery room and rent out the third floor office, where we foolishly plan on lavishly entertaining (instead, it becomes storage for mail order and dry stock).

2014 We put a massive freezer on the third floor and begin to renovate the Smokehouse.

2015 The shop undergoes a major renovation, bumping into the loading dock, removing the sinks, and separating the sandwich line from the deli line.

8 thoughts on “A Brief History of Northern Waters Smokehaus

  1. Awesome…Taylor is my great nephew and we cannot wait to go there this summer!

    1. We are lucky to have Taylor! See you soon, we hope!

  2. Was that DNT story a Table for Two review by any chance? Cajun Finn is still my favorite! Congratulations Eric and Lynn!

    1. Tom, it was! We tried so hard to get in the DNT for so long, and when you finally gave us some ink we were through the roof! Do you see what you helped create? Lines out the door, living wages, CHOWDER??? Thanks Tom, truly! -Mary

  3. Our all-time favorite foodie spot in Duluth! We love you guys! Many thanks for all the wonderful food that has contributed to some great memories!
    Barb and Greg at Heston’s

    1. Thanks guys! You were also integral to those early, lonely days at the shop – you two were foodies before there were foodies. xoxo Mary

  4. I was a customer from the very beginning … I remember buying smoked salmon from Eric at the Superior small business incubator. Now my 18-year-old daughter works at the restaurant on Woodland Avenue and is loving it! The food is delicious, the ambiance is charged with happy energy, and it’s a great addition to the neighborhood!

    1. Claire, we absolutely love your daughter – she’s wonderful, and so are you. I personally remember many times you were one of our only few customers for the night – thank you for all the support, now and then! -Mary

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