These days Ole Hage, who bought his dad’s Hage Concrete Works for $15,000 in 1966, mostly does estimating and inspecting jobs.
But the fit 73-year-old always shows up with a trowel just in case.
Hage, who nibbles fruit and nuts during the day, works six-day weeks in good-weather months when most stone-and-concrete jobs get done.
“I feel really well for a guy with pancreatic cancer,” said Hage. “And I’m going to fight this … beat it with diet and attitude.”
He’s decided, for now, to not undergo radiation and chemotherapy. He’s positive and embraces the Budwig Diet, the German whole foods-and-oils diet that claims cancer-fighting successes. This guy has always been an optimist.
“This is going to be our best year,” Hage said. “And if it wasn’t going to be … I probably wouldn’t tell you that. You bet I’m an optimist.”
Hage also is adjusting. He’s selling the business to daughter Franny Hage, 43. Franny, who used to work in technology sales for Apple, has run Hage Concrete’s day-to-day operations for about seven years.
“We haven’t finalized the sale price, but it’s going to be more than Ole paid his dad in 1966,” said Franny Hage. “Ole is a fighter. We need him on the job. I see him around for five to 10 years.”
Ole’s dad, Orville, started Hage Concrete in 1930 out of his south Minneapolis house. Up to three dozen workers showed up on busy days in the 1950s to be dispatched to job sites around south Minneapolis and the growing first-ring suburbs. Many Minneapolis residents are familiar with the Hage name that’s etched into concrete slabs and sidewalks in their neighborhoods.
Orville Hage was conservative. He liked working for homeowners and small businesses that paid in cash. He didn’t take on much debt. Ole’s mom answered the phone and did the books.
“All I ever wanted to do was be like my dad,” said Ole Hage, who worked part time while he attended Washburn High School. “I liked the work. And Dad became our estimator. He liked people and he instilled confidence in them about our work. I bought the business from him when he was 62. He stayed around until he was 80.”
Ole Hage, who runs 10 trucks and employs 25 permanent employees, also was an innovator. His was one of the first outfits to put signs out advertising its job sites. Ole cooked up the name “TechniCrete” in 1992 as a catchy reference for his mix of water, aggregate and additives that Hage asserts is best at surviving Minnesota’s freeze-and-thaw winters. He offers a “lifetime guarantee.”
“Ole is an honest worker and he is an artist,” said Ginny Wright, whose parents first hired Hage for a Minneapolis sidewalk job 50 years ago. “If something is wrong, Ole checks and fixes it. He just did some work in our furnace room. His prices are in line. And he personally stands by that guarantee. Not every company does.”
Ole still bids $500 jobs. The average one is $5,000. And Hage did a concrete-and-stone overhaul a few years ago on a Lake of the Isles property for more than $1 million.
For years, Ole Hage cruised around with “a 10-pound mutt” named Killer. In the summer, they would ride together on one of Ole’s two motorcycles.
“They would go out and make estimates,” Franny said. “Ole would take Killer to the Dairy Queen to discuss tough jobs. People still call us for bids and ask if Ole can bring Killer. He died 15 years ago.”
Ole made a few mistakes in business. Before the recession, he bought a St. Paul electric contractor. The business dried up. Ole took it into bankruptcy and sold it.
“I used a lot of money from Hage to keep it going,” Ole recalled. “I remember giving the 30 workers their final paychecks. I was ashamed. Dad worked until he was 80 to make sure I didn’t screw it up. He was tighter with money than me. Then I go and buy that. … ”
Now Ole is back to doing what he knows best and is hopeful about the prospects for a great outdoor season.
“The concrete business is a challenge,” Ole said. “You have to pour it right, set it right and there’s just a small window of time to get it done. Like anything else that’s hard, if it’s done right and looks good … you just feel great.”
Neal St. Anthony • 612-673-7144