Grandma's recipe was just the beginning

  • Article by: DICK YOUNGBLOOD , Star Tribune
  • Updated: July 29, 2010 - 9:24 PM

From lefse to sushi to camping trailers, entrepreneurship runs in the family.

Lisa Edevold and her brother Craig with one of the “teardrop” travel trailers he manufactures. Lisa owns two Tiger Sushi bars in the Twin Cities.

Photo: Dick Youngblood, Star Tribune

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When Laura and George Herberg decided in 1959 to market her lefse recipe, a thriving business in tiny Gonvick, Minn., wasn't the only payoff.

Offering living proof that entrepreneurship runs in the genes, three of their grandchildren lead their own businesses, each of them with upwards of $1 million in annual sales.

There's Lisa Edevold, 48, who has opened two thriving sushi restaurants in the metro area.

And Craig Edevold, 47, who has taken an old concept -- the pint-sized "teardrop" travel trailers popular in the 1940s and '50s -- and added a bit more space and a trailerload of modern amenities.

And Mark Edevold, 49, who's running the original family business, applying his own entrepreneurial mojo to broaden the product line and grow revenues at a double-digit rate.

Add it all up and we're talking three businesses that grossed nearly $6 million and employed 88 folks last year.

Lisa's Tiger Sushi bars, owned with husband Scott Mann and a friend, Chris Katayama, lead the parade with a 2009 gross of $1.8 million at a Mall of America location opened in 2003 and $1.5 million at a store opened in south Minneapolis in 2008.

So how did this blond Norwegian, who started out as a marketing manager for a couple of financial services companies, wind up peddling raw fish to a growing fan club in the Twin Cities?

"I was at the Mall of America one day, and I was hungry," she explained. "I love sushi, so I started looking for a sushi bar -- and I was shocked when there wasn't one." For reasons that escape the comprehension of this scribe, sushi was growing in popularity in the Midwest, so Edevold promptly decided this was a "huge opportunity."

It was not her first foray into the business. In 1992, while working full time as a marketing manager, she teamed up with Jack Thompson to open Java Jack's, one of the area's early purveyors of trendy espressos, cappuccinos and lattes.

It meant working 16-hour days, but she saw the cafe grow to nearly $1 million in annual sales before selling her share in 1998 and returning to a more humane work schedule.

Starting the first Tiger Sushi was not all that easy, however. An owner of the Mall of America (MOA) resisted at first: "He said something like, 'Raw fish in my mall -- never!'" Edevold said. But she had a senior MOA manager on her side, and he persuaded the boss.

The upshot: The mall location grossed $1.9 million in 2009. And a Tiger Sushi that opened late in 2008 at 2841 Lyndale Av. S. added another $1.5 million to the pot last year.

Which brings us to Craig Edevold, a mechanical engineer in Necedah, Wis., who was aiming to buy a travel trailer for a 2002 vacation trip to the Grand Canyon. Trouble was, everything he looked at was too heavy for his vehicle to pull -- until he saw an ad for a vintage "teardrop" trailer.

It was light enough, but "it was basically a box on wheels with a bed and some storage," he said. He wanted a bit more comfort, so he built his own teardrop with a queen-sized bed, a stove, a sunroof and a few windows to minimize any claustrophobic tendencies.

"Everywhere we stopped on the trip, people gathered around," Edevold said. "It'd take an hour to get away when we stopped for gas." He knew he was on to something.

So, when his employer, an electronics packaging firm, closed its Necedah plant, he and another plant employee, Cary Winch, started Petenwell Industries to sell their 5-foot-wide, 4-foot-tall, 8- to 10-foot-long Camp-Inn Travel Trailers with an array of options fit for a luxury suite at the local Holiday Inn.

There's a queen-sized bed, a couch that converts into a children's bunk bed and a chuckwagon-style kitchen, accessible from the outside, that offers a counter, sink, propane stove, cooler and cupboards.

Tiny campers, big amenities

Throw in TV/DVD players, heaters and air conditioners and you get a trailer that can sell for about $20,000, although a more austere number can be had for about $8,000. Edevold, however, is downright shocked that his average sale is about $18,000.

"I expected most sales would be low-end models," he said. "But we sell about four of them a year." Result: 2009 sales approached $1.3 million.

That's close to the gross Mark Edevold is generating as head of Winsor Products Co., the Gonvick company doing business as Mrs. Olson's Lefse.

Since succeeding his father, Ron, as manager of the business in 2006, Edevold has seen annual sales climb from $700,000 to $1.1 million, thanks to a package of new products and fresh promotional concepts.

The biggie: He promoted lefse not simply as a holiday treat topped with butter and sugar, but as a sandwich roll-up for chicken salad, ham and cheese, even hot dogs. This attracted such new clients as caterers, restaurants and Middle Eastern markets where the lefse is valued as "flatbread."

He also developed a line of breading mixes and built a website that now accounts for 20 percent of annual sales.

All of which is not to suggest that every decision the Edevolds made was golden. Consider the one Lisa made as a University of Minnesota student promoting Mrs. Olson's lefse at a metro supermarket.

Clad in traditional Norwegian garb -- long skirt, puffy-sleeved blouse and a little red hat -- she was "laying it on thick" with a pronounced Norwegian accent when she was approached by two men who'd been plugging their new gourmet ice cream in the store.

"They said they liked my 'shtick' and wanted to hire me to do demonstrations for them in the Midwest," Edevold recalled. "I took one look at their prices and decided they'd never make it, so I turned them down." But before they departed, she asked their names.

"I'm Ben," one of them said, "and this is my brother, Jerry."

Dick Youngblood • 612-673-4439 • yblood@startribune.com

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