back to where it all began: The General Store

May 18, 2022

life goes by quickly…I look in the mirror and see the image of my gramma staring back at me, yet in my mind I still see that spunky young woman just entering the culinary field of dreams, full of pith and vigor, ready to explore everything I could about food and wine

I spent nine years in Chippewa Falls, Wisconsin, experimenting with this deep-rooted passion…my gramma had instilled the importance of using the best ingredients and grandpa tilled the earth to make sure she had them…so, my first step was to grow my own vegetables and herbs, discovering companion planting was a theory that carried through from being friends in the garden to being the perfect pairing on the plate…sharing my plants and newfound knowledge with friends and neighbors eventually led to opening my first business, Laurel’s Country Herbs

playing in the dirt became an obsession, the grass lawn shrunk with each new herb or edible flower that I wanted to try…when harvest time arrived, the abundance of aromatic greenery would hang in bundles from the clothesline and garage rafters…once dried and stripped from their stems they ended up in mason jars or small plastic bags that I meticulously had to staple hang cards onto…eventually the storage space was at capacity which brought me to a storefront in the downtown area

as a little girl I loved to play store…gramma saved empty cans and boxes that I could arrange on the lower shelves in the front porch that was also used as a pantry. I even had a cash box to collect her pennies when she “shopped” for fixings of the daily meal…now I would be able to put these childhood games to use

The General Store was a great opportunity to become part of the community and meet area farmers and chefs…the shop became a gathering spot to not only get the best of local ingredients but also to share recipes and ideas, as my knowledge grew so did my curiosity about the restaurant industry…as the months passed, the calling was too strong to resist, I said goodbye to this building that helped catapult my culinary career

now, over 36 years later, my book tour has me back on the streets of where it all began…it is an indescribable feeling to be a stranger in a town you once called home, so much had changed, yet there were still places that remained relatively untouched by the passing of time…as I turned the corner onto Spring Street the site of the tell-tale front porch with the old wooden screen doors took my breathe away…just as myself, the old General Store building had a few more cracks and showed some aging but still had that character and continued to showcase delicious food

29 W. Spring Ave, Chippewa Falls, WI 1983
29 W. Spring Ave, Chippewa Falls, WI 2022

it is now home to Josef’s Confectionery, owned by Chef Nicholas Wiener…cheesecake is his specialty, delectable cheesecake cupcakes, if I had not just finished a black licorice ice cream cone, his brandy old fashioned or basil lemongrass versions would have been quickly devoured…I promised myself a quick return, wanting to bring a different flavor home for each of my friends…my husband, Doug, was smart enough to grab some macarons on our way out, honestly, the best I’ve ever had

not only did Chef Nicolas and I share the experience of beginning our first storefronts in the same building, but we also had the honor to be chefs for Lynn McDonough, restauranteur extraordinaire, owner of the Connell’s Supperclub, Connell’s II and Connell’s Club 12…this was the last place that I worked before making the move to South Dakota

the similarities were exciting to see, there is an odd pleasure in seeing someone else successfully walk down your path, all the while marching to his own drum…perhaps I could convince Chef Nicolas to bring his talents to Sioux Falls, Josef’s would be a great addition to our flourishing downtown

taking this nostalgic trip back to the places that had such an influence on my culinary growth was inspirational…it may had been a long, hard road, but I know now that each step was intentional and necessary to accomplish what I did…and what I continue to contribute to the culinary community that I love so much