The Ranger - Oct. 7

department of iron range resources and rehabilitation

The Ranger 

Oct. 7, 2020

Ruth’s Vegetarian Gourmet expands into retail markets across the nation

Ruth's Vegetarian Gourmet

Ruth’s Vegetarian Gourmet, a Two-Harbors-based producer of handmade plant-based frozen foods, is launching its products to retail markets this year in Minnesota, Wisconsin and Illinois. The products will soon be sold in Midwestern grocers such as Super One, Coborn’s, Tony’s Market, Jerry’s Market, Knowlan’s Fresh Foods, Woodman's Market and dozens of natural food cooperatives. Ruth’s also is opening specialty distributors in California, Florida and Maryland that will handle the distribution to smaller retailers in those states. Their market expansion was aided by a direct loan from Iron Range Resources & Rehabilitation.

Ruth’s uses traditional ingredients like oats, eggs, cheese, breadcrumbs, pecans, onion and garlic to make high protein products in small batches. Their products do not contain any soy, fillers, preservatives, dyes, nitrates, MSG or corn syrup. In addition to the retail market expansion, their products are available in bulk for food service in restaurants, cafeterias, industrial caterers, schools and health care facilities. Ruth’s also sells direct to individuals from their website.

Ruth's Vegetarian Gourmet American Crumbles

“The low-interest loan from Iron Range Resources & Rehabilitation is helping us expand and contribute to the diversification of the region’s economy and create employment opportunities outside of the mining industry,” said Bacon. “The loan provided our company additional working capital to market and sell products in the Minnesota market and beyond.”

The company was founded by Bruce Bacon in 2016 based on the recipes that his mother Doris Ruth created in the early 1960’s while she and her husband raised their five children in Two Harbors. Doris Ruth began experimenting with vegetarian recipes decades before plant-based meals were trendy. Click here to watch a video of the company history.

According to Bacon, a global trend has emerged among larger food corporations to produce products that mimic meat. Ruth’s products don’t imitate meat, rather they provide an alternative natural protein source. The world contains five “Blue Zones” where people live on average healthier and longer. One of several factors those people share is their diet of predominantly plant-based foods. The five zones are Icaria, Greece; Loma Linda, California; Nicoya Peninsula, Costa Rica; Okinawa, Japan; and, Sardinia, Italy.

“About 30% of the earth’s population is millennials, and they have a heightened interest in personal health and living sustainably,” said Bacon. “The millennials trend towards plant-based eating and are teaching their children the same. Millennials share similar lifestyles to those living in the 'Blue Zones.'”

Ruth's Vegetarian Gourmet Products

Bacon is a self-described serial entrepreneur with over 20 years of experience in heavy industrial design and manufacturing in the recycling and demolition industry. He founded two companies, Genesis and Exodus Machines, that sold products worldwide and employed over 200 people.

“A primary goal of Ruth’s Vegetarian Gourmet is to provide sustainable employment and wages in a great work environment,” said Bacon. “The workforce in Two Harbors is abundant with people who have a high willingness to learn and take on new challenges, are extremely adaptable and have good work ethics. I firmly believe that the heart of any company is its people.”

Ruth’s has 10 full-time and four part-time employees. Email Scott Sundvall or call him at 218-735-3015 for more direct loan information.

Business Energy Retrofit grant provides solar power to local food store

Natural Harvest Solar Panels

Natural Harvest Food Co-op in Virginia utilized a Business Energy Retrofit (BER) grant to help install a solar power rooftop system. The system outputs 32kW and generates nearly 20% of the facility’s electricity needs during the summer months which averages out to about 10% during the entire calendar year.

“The solar panels absorb and convert sunlight into electricity, and the result has been reduced monthly utility bills,” said Natural Harvest General Manager Anja Parenteau. “The solar panels help our organization achieve greater sustainability and make us more self-reliant.”

Natural Harvest Building

Natural Harvest is a cooperatively owned grocery store with organic and regional foods, an in-house deli with a daily hot bar and salad bar, organic coffee bar and a community room that offers educational classes. It began as a small buying club in 1976 comprised of a group of people that wanted access to a larger variety of whole foods at reasonable prices. The buying club grew and eventually became a retail store in 1979. It outgrew several retail locations and in 2017 built its current larger facility on Silver Lake in the city of Virginia. The co-op has about 4,200 owners and is open to the public.

Since BER’s inception in 2013, over 350 grants have been awarded to help small businesses with energy efficiency upgrades that can result in reduced utility bills, improved building aesthetics and increased building life. The program is funded by Iron Range Resources & Rehabilitation and administered through a partnership with Arrowhead Economic Opportunity Agency (AEOA). To learn more email Vince Meyer at AEOA or call him at 218-735-6828.

Sugar Shack bakery used business planning services for successful startup

Sugar Shack

The Sugar Shack Company, a Virginia-based bakery that opened a storefront last year will celebrate its one-year anniversary next month. Owner Erin Powell utilized the Northland Small Business Development Center (SBDC) to help expand her home-based business into rented retail space in Thunderbird Mall. SBDC assisted Powell with registering her business, obtaining licensing, and establishing a point-of-sale system.

“When my business outgrew my home, a friend recommended I contact Betsy Olivanti of SBDC to help me through the process of opening a retail location,” said Powell. “She personally sat down with me free of charge and guided me through the federal and state registration processes. She assisted me with setting up a point-of-sale system that is powered through iPads. Betsy made the entire process very comfortable and unintimidating.”

Olivanti is the SBDC regional consultant and provides technical support to local businesses (existing and startups) such as business plan development, feasibility and financial analysis, market research, advertising and sales, loan packaging, strategic planning, accounting systems and e-commerce. Iron Range Resources & Rehabilitation provided a Development Partnership grant to Northland Foundation to support an SBDC representative located on the Iron Range and designated to assist the Iron Range Quad Cities of Virginia, Gilbert, Mountain Iron and Eveleth.

Sugar Shack Collage

Sugar Shack sells homemade cupcakes, cookies, wedding and specialty cakes, scones, baked bars, cinnamon rolls and cheesecakes. Hard-dipped ice cream and a weekly lunch special are also offered. Custom orders comprise a large part of Sugar Shack sales including specialty cakes and cookies for weddings, graduations, birthdays, family celebrations and events.

Sugar Shack Grand Opening

"We have a loyal customer base that continues to grow,” said Powell. “The bakery closed for about two weeks due to COVID-19 but began curbside orders by April. The storefront reopened in June, and our customers and community were great in supporting our return.”

Powell is a wife, mother of six children ranging in age from 23 to 7, an entrepreneur, small business owner and graduate of Virginia High School. She employs three full-time and two part-time employees at Sugar Shack, and her husband Greg assists with the maintenance of the shop and equipment when he is not working at Minntac Mine. (Pictured above is Sugar Shack's ribbon cutting and below is Powell in the front row left with some of her employees.)

Sugar Shack Employees

“Launching my small business in my hometown of Virginia has been very rewarding,” said Powell. “We are providing full- and part-time jobs to people within the community I grew up.”

For Development Partnership grant information email Whitney Ridlon or call her at 218-735-3004. For SBDC business consulting services email Betsy Olivanti or call her at 218-228-8552, ext. 102.

Two businesses in Virginia received funding through a downtown redevelopment plan

Popper's Bar

The city of Virginia and the Virginia Economic Development Authority (VEDA) earlier this year launched its Downtown Grant Redevelopment Program which is anticipated to renovate up to 12 commercial properties that are currently substandard and/or blighted and located in the city-designated Redevelopment District.

Popper’s Bar and Commercial Refrigeration received grants to improve their businesses located on Chestnut Street. Popper’s received a $21,926 grant for a new roof. Commercial Refrigeration received $49,000 for a new roof and siding. (Pictured above is the check presentation at Popper's Bar and below is the check presentation at Commercial Refrigeration. Both presentations were held on Sept. 25.)

Commercial Refrigeration

Iron Range Resources & Rehabilitation supported the redevelopment initiative with a $250,000 EDA Partnership Pilot grant, and the city of Virginia contributed $300,000 with the sale of a tax abatement bond. Other project partners include VEDA, Virginia Community Foundation and ReVive Virginia, a nonprofit organization formed to focus on downtown preservation and revitalization. With the funding, VEDA is offering grants in the form of forgivable loans of up to $49,000 to downtown business owners who reinvest in the physical assets of their business property. Favorable loan resources have also been secured to provide additional affordable financing to leverage grant funding.


Canelake’s was the first business to receive a redevelopment grant which was awarded in June. The iconic family-owned candy store founded in 1905, acquired an adjacent blighted building and is in the process of renovating it to accommodate an expansion. (Pictured is the June 22 check presentation and ribbon cutting.)

“The goal is to enhance and grow commercial, mixed-use development in our historic downtown,” said City Administrator Britt See-Benes. “Market values increase when dilapidated properties are redeveloped. That type of positive change in our Redevelopment District can have city-wide benefits to our residents and businesses. These three businesses are setting an excellent example of how updated storefronts and buildings can revitalize downtowns.”

For VEDA redevelopment grants, email City Administrator Britt See-Benes or call her at (218) 748-7500. For Iron Range Resources & Rehabilitation EDA Partnership Pilot information email Whitney Ridlon or call her at 218-735-3004.

50 businesses received COVID-19 relief loans, positively impacting over 600 jobs in northeastern Minnesota

Taconite Area Business Relief Loan Program

Fifty businesses in the Iron Range Resources & Rehabilitation service area that have been negatively impacted by the COVID-19 pandemic received a combined total of $1.8 million in loans that helped retain over 600 jobs.

The Taconite Area Business Relief Loan Program was established in June by a unanimous vote of the agency’s Board and funded at $5 million. Local businesses that have been impacted by the COVID-19 pandemic are eligible to apply for 2% interest loans of up to $40,000 to be used as working capital or any legal business purpose. No repayment on the loans will be due for the first six months, followed by 60 payments of principal and interest. Applicants must intend to re-open if currently closed due to the pandemic.

“COVID-19 has created extraordinary economic challenges in northeastern Minnesota,” said Mark Phillips, Iron Range Resources & Rehabilitation commissioner. “The Relief Loans can help area businesses and their employees. We’ve assisted 50 businesses, and loan funding is still available to business to help through their economic recovery.”

The Entrepreneur Fund is administering the Business Relief Program. Over $3.1 of the $5 million is still available. It is anticipated that when completed, approximately 200 local businesses could receive a low-interest loan. Click here for details.

For more information on the Taconite Area Business Relief Loan Program email Matt Sjoberg or call him at 218-735-3037.

The Ranger is a publication of Iron Range Resources & Rehabilitation. Our mission is to invest resources to foster vibrant growth and economic prosperity in northeastern Minnesota.