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5 Things That Happened This Week At NWS

Perhaps you’re a regular reader of this blog, or perhaps this is your first time. Either way, I’ll begin by saying that, by and large, most weeks at NWS end up being very similar—we work the grind. Exciting stuff happens around here so often that the extraordinary ends up feeling pretty ordinary. As such, I usually default to some sort of cheekiness in my introductions to this blog. It livens up the writing process for me. However, I’ve had a realization that some of these seemingly mundane happenings in my workplace might actually be more interesting than I had previously realized, and that maybe I take for granted working one of the coolest jobs I have had/one of the coolest jobs to be had. So, with that, here’s five things that are either pretty rad, or that I’m going to spin into radness, that happened on or around this week.

  1. We got a new POS! For the uninitiated, that’s point-of-sale, not piece of [excrement], though sometimes technology feels like that, doesn’t it? Xevious Stevenson, our awesome Client Success Manager (nabbed that title from his business card, since it seems very fitting, considering the work he put in on our transition day) spent a very full workday installing the system, fielding our plentiful (excessive?) questions, reprogramming the system to our specifications, and cracking jokes alongside us as if he had been a part of our team for years. Transitioning to the new system happened on a very busy Thursday, so we’re grateful to our customers for bearing with us. Our hope is this new system allows us to fully integrate all of our departments seamlessly, to limit the confusion between our several distinct departments we have recently come to know. As a nearly five-year employee, I have been amazed every year by our continuous growth and success. Hard work and commitment to quality appears to pay off, friends.
  2. We have new employees! I’m not sure how shy they are yet, so I’m not going to start dropping names to the masses, but it seems like we’re hiring the cream of the crop. New coworkers are great, because they tend to have very positive outlooks on what a jaded, bitter old soul like me considers tedious work. All jokes asidecough*where’s the joke?*cough—it’s great to have more hands on deck, because the workload has not slowed down for us here at Northern Waters. It’s also always exciting to add to the wall of heights.
  3. We have a tomato surplus! Inventory/ordering/production is a challenging speculative enterprise. Sometimes you’re slotted in a tight barrel of tomato-heavy salads, sauces, and sandwiches, and the next week you realize the weekend crew was totally skunked, and now there’s twelve full racks of tomatoes and nowhere to put half of them. Yes, I just googled surfing slang, and no, there will be no glossary at the back of the book. Anyway, I was very amused by my coworkers’ reactions when the order came in on Monday, doubling our tomato supply. Today, the prep department has been hard at work on a 160-sandwich pickup order, so hopefully that puts a dent in the inventory. And if it doesn’t, I’m crossing my fingers for the return of Meatball Mondays at NWS. Relevant to the topic, here’s a favorite song of mine. The only thing that’s wrong with it is its <2 minute duration.
  4. Olivia sliced a ton of bacon and was pretty excited about it! To be honest, there’s a few people I’ve met in my life who probably dream about slicing and handling this much bacon, so her excitement doesn’t surprise me. This is part of the Sisyphean preparation for the infamous Mail-Order Season, which never really ends, but has vague terminal points in the middle of November and the beginning of January. Back to the bacon—she even provided me with a photograph. Enjoy.
  5. We are on the cusp of two awesome weekends! As I have previously mentioned, this weekend we are heading down to Best of the Wurst, hosted by Sociable Ciderworks. That in itself is pretty cool, but I have no doubts the following weekend is going to top it. On September 29th, at Hoops Brewing and then at Rex Bar, we are throwing a big ol’ public hootenanny to celebrate twenty years of smoking something (mostly fish and meats). There will be free food (provided by us), free beer (provided by us in conjunction  with Hoops), and free music (provided by bands featuring members of our team—curated by myself, Greg the H.R. wizard, and dynamic design duo Jacob and Zac). We’ll be closing the shop’s doors at 4pm, so that all of our employees can party down with you. I didn’t know Eric when he began this business, but just a few moments of interacting him will give you an insight into how proud he is of this little deli.

So, there you have it. Count ‘em up, because you just got six things (and some slick anecdotes) for the price of five. That’s what they call extra value. See you at next week’s five things blog, unless my in-progress exposé on bison pastrami, or the first installation upcoming Practical Guide to Northern Waters Smokehaus series hits the web first, or if you come in and talk to me while I’m working in the deli. Anything is possible if you follow your dreams.

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5 Things That Happened This Week

As Summer pushes onward toward its inevitable end, Northern Waters Smokehaus finds itself embroiled in growing pains and the joy of new beginnings. A lot has been happening around here in the past week—continuations of capital improvements, commencements of new bargains, and the laying of plans for special occasions.

Before my preamble becomes too amble-y, let’s get to our five things:

  1. We have a sink upstairs! This may not sound as exciting as I have made it out to be, but it’s a significant step in the renovation of our third-floor office. For some time we have wanted to expand our food prep capabilities, and that dream is well on its way to being a reality. Next week we’re tearing out the carpet, and then it’s Food Safe City in this joint! Aside from the chaos of remodeling a jam-packed office—who can’t enjoy a little chaos from time to time?—the only drawback is that we’re taking a brief pause on mail orders. Mail order will be on hiatus August 6th-9th due to temporary lack of space.
  2. Totes! We have new tote bags for sale and a special deal running throughout the month of August. It totes slipped our minds to let you know earlier, but here it is:
    When you buy a tote, at time of purchase you get 20% off every item you can fit in that tote. Sandwiches, smoked fish, cheese, tube meats, posters, crackers, beverages, olives, slaws—I could go on,but I believe you get the gist—are all 20% off, so long as you can fit them in your tote bag. Please note, you’ll be buying the tote itself at full price, and the sale is limited to one full tote of discounted goods per customer.
  3. Last pop-up of the Summer! Tonight (Friday) we’ll be at Hoops Brewing slinging tacos from 5pm until they’re gone. The tacos will be tasty and the salsas will be fresh.
  4. Business is good…sometimes too good. Thanks to you, our awesome customers, we have been regularly selling out of a bunch of our inventory. This is a double-edged sword, of course, as our business is thriving, sometimes at the expense of our customers being able to get their favorite items. A frozen Berkshire ham that arrives at our store takes two weeks to become the delicious smoked ham in our deli case, and our salumi cures for up to a month.  Ciscos are fantastic when we have them, but I still haven’t quite figured out when they’re in-season. Production doesn’t really ever slow down for us, and we do our best to keep our little deli fully stocked. So shoutout to you, dear customers, for keeping us on our feet, but please bear with us if you ever catch us without your favorite item. If you’re curious, you can check in with us to see if and when we’ll have a particular item in stock.
  5. Bread joys and woes. Our beloved baker, Jerry, has been steadily honing his craft in our kitchen. All of our rye bread is now made in-haus, as well as the rosemary potato rolls upon which we serve our Monday smokers’ choice special. White bread and stiratos are in the works, but not quite ready for mass-production. Baking bread is truly an art-form, and one we are glad to be adding to our establishment. We recently purchased a new (much larger) oven to bake said bread, though it hasn’t been a perfectly smooth ride thus far. There have been a few technical issues with the oven over the past week that have put a hitch in our production. Fortunately, Jerry is a gosh-darn workhorse, and has us stocked on rye and potato rolls for weeks to come.So there you have it. It’s been a pretty exciting ride around these parts. Thanks for bearing with us in the long lines, and for your patience with us during our growth spurt. You, and our love of good food, are the reason we’re here.

    Stay tuned for exciting updates in the near future. Planning for our 20th Anniversary party is ongoing and we’ll be making announcements soon. Unless I decide to write another blog post in the meantime, I’ll see you next week.

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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.