Cream rises to top of business planArea News
-- Area resident Sarah Kowal plans to open a new business on Main Street in late January 2012 and says her background in retail, education in horticulture and influential years spent as a member of the Future Farmers of America have all helped lead her to a business plan for the WeatherVane Creamery.
By: Debbie Griffin , Pierce County Herald
Area resident Sarah Kowal plans to open a new business on Main Street in late January 2012 and says her background in retail, education in horticulture and influential years spent as a member of the Future Farmers of America have all helped lead her to a business plan for the WeatherVane Creamery.
Kowal says she’s shopping Main Street spaces, looking seriously at two possibilities where she intends to open a “destination” business featuring slow-churned ice cream by the scoop from Castle Rock Organic Farms in Osseo; Wisconsin cheeses from basic to artisan; one kind of exclusive coffee made from a Nicaraguan bean and roasted locally; plus other native offerings such as tea, honey, maple syrup, beef jerky, local art and more.
Kowal says she’s open to ideas and predicts the business will flex and change according to demand.
She wants WeatherVane to have a clean, comfortable atmosphere that evokes nostalgia yet has a hip, modern flair. Kowal does not envision a gingham-and-rooster theme; she’s planning to feature local art, including some functional pieces.
She also plans on having David Markson paint a mural inside and might have a juke box.
“I want the shop to embody the community,” she said.
She thinks River Falls has a great deal of downtown business potential and that the region is ready for a place where customers can taste a difference in the ice cream or other product. Maybe people will come there to get first-tap maple syrup on their favorite flavor of ice cream, an old-fashioned milk shake or root beer float and the perfect cheese for that recipe, party, gift, and more.
“We’re coming back to that,” she said of the experience.
Kowal clarifies that she is not an organic purist and is not opposed to fat, but she thinks customers will respond to carefully selected native products that are “right” all the way through the food-supply chain -- from farmer to retail counter.
Dairy savvy started young
The 34-year-old Kowal says joining the FFA in her home town of Oshkosh exposed her to the dairy industry’s many lessons early in life. A self-described “troubled teen,” she says the club and its lessons grounded her and exposed her to opportunities for leading, learning “Robert’s Rules of Order,” traveling to FFA functions and judging dairy quality.
“FFA was really a turning point for me,” she said.
Kowal worked with many farmers and gained a high regard for their work. Later in high school, she learned more about business.
She earned a bachelor’s degree in horticulture from UW-River Falls and during that time took an internship at an organic dairy farm and worked at the Whole Earth Grocery cooperative for two years. She said she is reconnecting with many people and collaborating with many for the business, saying the ultimate objective is to create economic vitality for everyone.
For example, Whole Earth will be roasting WeatherVane’s coffee beans, and the grocery coop already carries pints and gallons of Castle Rock ice cream.
She left River Falls 10 years ago, first managing a high-volume Chicago Starbucks on the train line and perfecting the company’s 1,700 different combinations of drinks. She said the experience and philosophy of the company’s founder, Harold Schultz, impacted her life.
“It was a huge influence on me,” Kowal said.
She headed west to Portland a few years ago and managed the produce department of a grocery cooperative. She loosely planned to someday move back to River Falls and open a coffee shop but when she returned, found two coffee shops already doing a good job.
“I don’t see any point in bringing something to town that it doesn’t need,” she said.
The returning Kowal says she listened carefully to people talking casually and picked up on the recurring theme: They want ice cream -- the good old fashioned stuff and a cool place in which to eat it. With that in mind, the Wisconsin native says everything became clear after she saw an Oregon-based cheese locally.
“I thought ‘what is this doing here?’” she said, “and it was like a key fitting in a lock.”
Kowal said the name of the business derived from the feeling that she followed a shifting wind back to River Falls.
Kowal says people sometimes wonder how she uses a horticulture degree in the retail food business. Hers focused on fruits and vegetables as well as some food-making techniques and the logistics of the food chain.
“We trained and studied about how cheese is made,” she said.
She has a lot to do between now and January -- comparing potential floor plans, creating a marketing plan and talking to interested investors about microloans. The businesswoman says people can track progress by following her on Twitter.com – @wvcreamery. People can email her at email@example.com.
Kowal said people are looking for an “experience” and that the area’s agricultural and dairy heritage should be celebrated. She wants the new business to help do both.