KellyG’s Wild Rice Burger is local, vegetarian, and a commercial success
As time passes and the economic landscape transforms around us, one thing will never change: Americans love burgers.
Time has reshaped the town of Bovey, Minnesota; from a once booming mining town on the Iron Range populated with workers, families and school-age children, to the closure of the mines and having a main highway rerouted out of the downtown, leaving a quiet stillness in its place with a decreasing population. But as surely as time goes on, folks will continue to live, have families, innovate, and of course – eat.
Co-owners of KellyG’s Wild Rice Burgers, Georgia Sarich and her niece Kelly Porter, have found Bovey to be the perfect location to start and grow their unique company that almost seemed preordained for success. Sarich, Formerly the owner of the now-closed JayBee Inn in nearby Pengilly also has years of experience in the food industry, and while vacationing with vegetarian family members near Grand Marais, tasted inspiration. Sarich ate a wild rice burger on the trip that she couldn’t put out of her mind, and shortly thereafter contacted Porter with a business proposition.
“I was sitting in my rocking chair,” remembers Sarich, “thinking about how good those burgers were and that we should try to market them - so, I called up Kelly.”
Kelly Porter had been cooking vegetarian recipes for her family for many years and liked the idea of creating a product for the niche market. “My kids and sister were vegetarian,” said Porter, “and I was always looking for things you could make meatless. We thought a burger could be a good option.”
The idea was a go. Sarich and her sister Bev Glass, Porter’s mother, spent hours in Sarich’s Bovey home perfecting the recipe and adjusting spices.
“I used my kitchen as a test-kitchen for almost a year, [and Bev was my taste-tester.],” Sarich recalls. “We were in a twoplex house, and I would come down with my burgers and [my sister Bev would] say, ‘get out of here, I’m not tasting these burgers again!’” Sarich said laughing.
KellyG’s Wild Rice Burgers are made primarily from locally sourced ingredients. The decision to make the patties gluten-free was one of clever marketing, as it has opened up their product to a growing market of people who are gluten intolerant, have gluten allergies, or choose not to eat gluten.
“It’s got rice, cheese, flour, eggs and spices, and that’s all,” Porter said.
“It’s gluten-free, meatless, and vegetable-free,” said Sarich, “…We buy all of our rice from local Native American people. But it’s very important that we buy local – especially the wild rice, it’s the biggest ingredient. The flour comes from Oregon, [but] hopefully we can always keep our business local, because we need [that here.]”
Their commercial kitchen is an unlikely one, but in the wake of an economic depression the reuse and repurposing of buildings is not uncommon. Formerly an elementary school, the Mt. Olive Lutheran Church has a large capacity kitchen with stainless steel countertops – perfect for Sarich and Porter’s needs to start their business. Preparing to move out of Sarich’s home kitchen and into her church’s – the two set about getting the space licensed for food production.
“There was no point in pursuing [the business] until we got a licensed facility,” said Sarich. “That’s all stainless steel [in the Mt. Olive kitchen], so we just fell right in and the church is real good about it.”
-Since the ideas conception in 2013, Sarich and Porter have been co-owners of the business even though living hours apart.Porter currently lives in White Bear Lake and is an oncology nurse working at Hennepin County Medical Center in Minneapolis, but makes time to come to Bovey.
The name, KellyG’s, is a combination of the two owner’s names, but both agree they do most things together.
“We’re co-owners – just us two, but we listen to Bev sometimes,” joked Sarich.
“I thought [the name] ‘KellyG’s’ sounded nice,” said Sarich, “so I called Kelly, and of course she was all for that [laughs] - I’m teasing… We get along really well.”
Porter attended food safety certification courses and the business received help from local organizations to set up community taste tests as well as lab testing their recipe for nutritional information.
“We had to get a food safety certificate,” explained Porter, “[and we also obtained the National Women’s Business Enterprise Certification which] opens a lot of doors ... If you’re certified, distributors are required to have a certain percentage of diverse … suppliers, and it opens more opportunities. Also, it’s just good to celebrate [that we’re women-owned.]”
Porter and Sarich’s patient diligence paid off, and finding distributors for their product happened quickly. Sarich brought a sample burger to Fraboni’s Distribution and were picked up almost immediately. They have since been supplying TriStar Distribution and have their burgers in locations up and down Minnesota.
“[We are both here making burgers] on demand,” said Sarich.
“Sometimes [we’re here] weekly, sometimes it’s every two weeks,” said Porter, “Some distributors order more often than others, but we’re always increasing our customers and getting busier.”
“Fraboni’s [initially ordered] 10 cases probably every two weeks, then [they] increased it to 15, and now it’s 20 cases,” said Sarich.
After their first distribution in April of 2017, Sarich and Porter have attended food fairs and in-store sample days, as well as approaching resorts and restaurants in the area and the the business has grown exponentially.
“[The burgers are available in] the Whole Foods Coop in Duluth,” said Sarich, “Hy-Vee in Brooklyn Park, Kowalski’s, Super One Foods [on the Iron Range], Leuken’s in Bemidji, and the Fresh and Natural foods store in Shoreview, Minnesota. [They’re available at] the Forest Lake Restaurant in Grand Rapids, [as well as other restaurants and resorts including Gordy’s Hi-Hat in Cloquet].”
With potential buyers on both the east and west coasts and distribution lined up for even more supermarket chains, Sarich and Porter don’t plan to slow down any time soon; and in the modest kitchen of the Mt. Olive Lutheran church in Bovey, they are pleased to be in the town where their family reside.
“So far it’s been a surprise,” said Porter. “I knew people liked them, but I didn’t expect them to do as well as they’re doing - and it’s good to be up here helping my mom and aunts.” Porter added, “It’s an economically depressed area, and if we can do something to help – even though right now it’s just Georgia and I, [though] hopefully someday we’ll have [employees] – I think it’s good to bring businesses here, as well as just having people hear about Bovey.”
For more information on KellyG’s Wild Rice Burgers visit https://kellygswildriceburgers.com/