Midwest Nest Magazine

Midwest Nest Magazine

Culture, Entertaining, Home Design, Fargo, Interior Design, DIY

Category: Culture

Inside the 2018 Extra/Ordinary Gala by Red Brick Boutique [Thumper Pond, Ottertail, Minnesota]

Words by Tracy Nicholson / Photography by Shannon Rae Photography On June 16, Midwest Nest Magazine had the pleasure of attending and sponsoring one of the summer’s most anticipated style…

Words by Tracy Nicholson / Photography by Shannon Rae Photography

On June 16, Midwest Nest Magazine had the pleasure of attending and sponsoring one of the summer’s most anticipated style shows, the Extra/Ordinary Gala. This year, the beautiful Thumper Pond Resort in Ottertail, Minn., hosted a sold-out audience who were pampered with the area’s finest cuisine, live music, shopping and a runway fashion show.

Each year, the founders of Ottertail’s Red Brick Boutique, spearheaded by owner Paula Thiel, spend months preparing for the festivities. Models arrive from all over the region, followed by hair and makeup experts who are ready to create a runway show worthy of New York Fashion Week.

Making a wild impression on guests were a few lemur and parrot friends from the Trowbridge Creek Zoo in Vergas, Minn. Staging the event entrance and decor was The White House Co. of Fargo.

Paula Thiel: Red Brick Boutique owner and event founder
“I love the production itself, it’s beautiful and meaningful. The whole goal of the show is to release the Summer Collection, of course, but something deeper than that always resonates with show-goers. I always hear from women in tears after the show, telling me it’s inspired them to pursue their best lives or to chase after a goal or change something that’s been hindering them.”

“My true goal in hosting this show is to inspire on whatever level I can. It’s funny how much of an effect music and fashion have on our lives in this tiny little town, but I love it.”

“This idea to bring fashion to the forefront has followed me since I was a child. So the idea behind the show is to put together outfits that actually work in our daily lives, not just in theory. Then we display them in a creative way that creates a fun, memorable night. Once you add live music, dance, food and shopping, you just get this dynamic that’s completely amazing.”


For more information, contact:
Red Brick Boutique
107 West Main Street, Ottertail, M.N.




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Dakota Vines Vineyard & Winery

Words by Tracy Nicholson / Photography by M.Schleif Photography With life-long careers devoted to education, Deb and Bob Grosz have been planting the seed to pursue a passion outside of…

Words by Tracy Nicholson / Photography by M.Schleif Photography

With life-long careers devoted to education, Deb and Bob Grosz have been planting the seed to pursue a passion outside of the classroom. After 14 years of studying the art of winemaking, their dream would finally become reality in a soybean field near Colfax, North Dakota. On June 15, the Groszes gathered their 5,780 bottles of wine and opened the doors to Dakota Vines Vineyard and Winery. With Crooked Lane Farm neighboring their vineyard from across the river, they may have just created Fargo-Moorhead’s newest day-trip destination.

In their nearly 33 years of marriage, Bob and Deb Grosz had spent much of their lives consumed with the activities of three children and busy careers. Now, empty-nesters, they’ve refocused their spare time and energy into a longtime passion for winemaking. “We are thrilled that our kids and family have been so supportive,” said Deb Grosz. “Our son in L.A. and youngest son from Minneapolis came down for the opening while our oldest daughter who lives in Fargo has been out here helping us. A big reason why we’re doing this is that they were so active and we were so busy when they were younger – it all just comes to a halt when the kids are moved out, it’s a huge change.”

“Some people buy a sports car and we just took a hobby and turned it into a business,” laughed Bob Grosz.

Turn at the Wine Barrel
Just off of I-29 near rural Colfax, you can’t miss Dakota Vine’s cedar wine barrel sign. Built by Bob Grosz and his friend, Todd Johnson, the two created an inviting backdrop for the custom metal logo by Red River Metal Art.

On the Grow
Starting with an at-home winemaking kit, Bob Grosz became enthralled with all aspects of the science and process behind the wine. “We had some grapes that were frozen, some from Washington and some from California and we continued to work with that,” said Bob Grosz. “Then, we met Rodney Hogen at Red Trail Vineyard in Buffalo and I started working with him. The only thing I asked was that I get to take some of the grapes with me after I’d help him prune or harvest. About three years ago, we decided this was something we wanted to pursue, so I’ve been working on earning a degree in Enology, or winemaking. It’s a two-year associates degree through the VESTA program (vesta-usa.org) with classes offered through various universities and all of them require some type of a practicum. I’ve been in wineries across Minnesota and Wisconsin, along with lab work in Cleveland. We decided that if this is what we wanted to do, we had better be good at it before we take that next step.”

True North Dakota Wines
Since their vines are newly planted and won’t produce for three years, the couple has been sourcing their grapes from other vineyards and the University of Minnesota. “We will only offer wines from grapes that can be grown right here in North Dakota,” said Deb Grosz. “You won’t find a Cabernet, Merlot or Chardonnay here because those grapes don’t grow in this climate. So, even though we could have used any grape we wanted this time, we still wanted our wines to reflect what can actually be produced in North Dakota.”

“For our licensing, by year five we have to be using 50% North Dakota product, but our goal is to get there much faster. Our hope is that more local vineyards will open and start growing so that we can buy more local product,” said Bob Grosz.

Tasting Room
To kick off their opening summer, Dakota Vines is offering two spectacular reds, two whites and three fruit wines in apple, pear and plum varietals. For those who prefer their hops over grapes, the tasting room will also feature locally-made craft beers from Fargo Brewing Company and other local breweries.

In the tasting room, the Groszes offer guests small glimpses of their personal life, infusing the space with rustic and schoolhouse elements in cozy, country surroundings. “With both of us being educators, we thought school chairs were appropriate,” said Deb Grosz. “We found the barn door and school chairs at Habitat Restore. We just wanted to pull it all together and make it reflect our life.”

Bob Grosz designed and drew-up the entire winery, working closely with Wahpeton, N.D., contractor, Matt Kinneberg. Kinneberg was able to repurpose the Grosz’s old fence boards to create the focal point above the fireplace and the beams in the ceiling.

“It’s so much fun to be at this point now – we had this in our imagination and now to see it is amazing,” said Deb Grosz. “My step-dad, Duane Radeck, actually built the bar and wine storage for us. We wanted the traditional wine x’s. He and my mom, Carolyn, have been very helpful and they didn’t miss a single work session for bottling.”

ND Wine Time!
Wine tasting options consist of five samples for $5.00, by the glass or by the bottle. Prices range from $17.99 to $18.99 per bottle. With names reflective of their North Dakota heritage, guests will find wines like Roughrider, Prairie Sky, Mighty Bison, Lake Agassiz, County Road and Peace Garden.

Labeled on the barn door are descriptions of each wine and the grape variety or fruit, such as Marquette, Frontenac, La Crescent and Brianna. These grapes have been harvested from the University of Minnesota’s program as well as independent breeders.

Tasty Pairings
This summer, Dakota Vines will be offering small plates with crackers and cheeses for anyone touring or tasting. “We do have a very small commercial kitchen in the back, so as we expand and go into year two, we have a few ideas to create special dinner nights, possibly once a week on Saturday nights,” said Deb Grosz.

The Wine Wall
Near the fireplace, the Groszes have created their own “Wine Wall”, featuring and showing support for other local wineries and cider houses who have offered valuable advice throughout their winemaking journey. “It was amazing to me when we let the other wineries know that we wanted to do this, they were all in,” said Deb Grosz. “They were so excited and said, please do it. It hasn’t been a competitive scenario, really just a collaboration. I know there are people in this community who still don’t know there are any wineries in North Dakota. Hopefully, they see this wall and want to take a road trip.”

“We visited quite a few local wineries as well as an array of wineries in Napa, but locally, our friends at 4e and Red Trail Vineyards have been so supportive and helpful,” said Deb Grosz. “They’ve also given their time. We’ve had so many people out here helping us bottle; crews of seven to eight people for six days in a row. All we had to do was ask, and keep feeding them, and they just kept coming to help.”

“It’s like our friends at 4e Winery in Mapleton said, ‘When you have a winery, you don’t need a gym membership,'” laughed Bob Grosz.

“Someone actually said to us, ‘Not only do we want you to do this, but we want you to do it well,'” said Deb Grosz. “That really spoke to me. He explained that if our wine is the only North Dakota wine that someone has tried, it has to be good. We don’t want anyone thinking that North Dakota can’t produce good wine – so, it’s really important that all of our local wineries do well.”

The Gallery
Just beyond the tasting room, the space overlooking the river is penned “The Gallery”. The rentable room is designed to accommodate up to 40 people for nearly any type of gathering.

The Gallery’s crisp, white walls feature an array of patchwork quilt art by local artists and watercolor art by Barbara Benda Nagle and Bev Benda. “Years ago, Barbara was our daughter’s fifth-grade teacher, so we asked her if she would like to be our first art show,” said Deb Grosz. Throughout the summer, the couple plan to rotate in new artists’ work so guests will have a unique experience with each visit.

Outside of the gallery, the Groszes have designed a small patio where guests can enjoy a dose of country life, river views and wildflowers. In future plans, the Groszes are working to design a small gazebo or pavilion-like structure closer to the river, where guests can enjoy live music or relax with a glass of wine.

Across the River and Through the Woods…
Just across the river, Mary Jo Schmid and Brent Larson, owners of Crooked Lane Farm, have a beautiful event and wedding venue with a 1940s barn. “Mary Jo and I were in grad school together at UND and our kids were in theatre activities together, so we’ve known them for a long time and asked them if they’d ever want to part with some land. They have been super helpful and really saw this as a good companion business for their own,” said Deb Grosz. “We feel the same way about them; we can work with brides and grooms for their wine and we’ll be setting up a table to sell wine at their concerts that they host every other Thursday, all summer. This year, our time and effort will be focused on the tasting room and the concerts at Crooked Lane Farm.”

Open for Tastings & Tours!
Dakota Vines is now open every Friday, Saturday and Sunday through Labor Day weekend. Guests can tour the tasting room, gallery and production room with Letina tanks.

Once the snow flies, make sure to check their Facebook page and website for updates on special dates for holiday shopping events and exclusive dining nights. “For the holidays, we have discussed partnering with Crooked Lane Farm to do a sleigh ride which would bring guests back to our tasting room for a mulled wine and provide a place to warm up and enjoy the season,” said Deb Grosz. “With river right outside our door, it’s really beautiful here in the winter.” Next summer, you can expect Dakota Vines to open their tasting room as early as Memorial weekend.

Get to Know: Bob Grosz – Vineyard and Winery Manager, Winemaker
Bob Grosz has over 25 years of experience in public school education as a teacher, principal and associate superintendent. He has been the Associate Superintendent for the Fargo Public Schools for the past 10 years and has been an adjunct professor at North Dakota State University for the past five years, teaching classes to master’s level students. Bob Grosz has a doctorate in Educational Leadership from the University of North Dakota and is currently working on a degree in Enology (winemaking).

Get to Know: Deb Grosz – Sales and Tasting Room Manager
Deb Grosz began her career in 1989 as a 4th-grade teacher and has a doctorate in Educational Leadership from the University of North Dakota. She spent ten years in various elementary and middle school classrooms prior to her current role at Concordia College as the Director of Field Experiences where she teaches children’s literature and various seminars to pre-service teachers.

Hit the road for a North Dakota Tasting Tour!

4e Winery
3766 156th Avenue S.E., Mapleton, N.D.
Red Trail Vineyard
3510 142nd Avenue S.E., Buffalo, N.D.
redtrailvineyards.comMaple River Winery (Open year-round)
628 Front Street, Casselton, N.D.
mapleriverwinery.comRookery Rock Winery (New!)
3660 147th Avenue S.E., Wheatland, N.D.

Point of View Winery
8413 19th Avenue N.W., Burlington, N.D.

Wild Grape Winery and Kesselring Vineyards (Vineyard tours by appointment)
5720 160th Avenue S.E., Kindred, N.D.
kesselringvineyard.wordpress.comPrairie Rose Meadery
3101 39th Street S., Fargo, N.D.
prairierosemeadery.comDakota Sun Gardens Winery
955 73rd Avenue N.E., Carrington, N.D.

Bear Creek Winery
8800 South 25th Street, Fargo, N.D.

Prairiewood Winery
12443 68th Street S.E., Lisbon, N.D.

Cottonwood Cider House
14481 25th Street S.E., Ayr, N.D.

Wild Terra Cider & Brewing
6 – 12th Street North, Fargo, N.D.


For more information, contact:
Dakota Vines Vineyard and Winery
17355 County Road 4, Colfax, N.D. (I-29 toward Abercrombie – exit 37)
(Open for tastings and tours through mid-September)
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Happy Camper Overhaul [Somethings Borrowed]

Words by Tracy Nicholson / Photography by Dan Francis Photography Overlooking Hoot Lake in Fergus Falls’ Godel Park, mom and daughter-duo, Kim Olson and MacKenzie Anderson, set the perfect summertime…

Words by Tracy Nicholson / Photography by Dan Francis Photography

Overlooking Hoot Lake in Fergus Falls’ Godel Park, mom and daughter-duo, Kim Olson and MacKenzie Anderson, set the perfect summertime stage. With their wedding and event rental company, Somethings Borrowed, the two spotted this old camper online and knew it would be the perfect addition to their business. Spending six weeks on renovations, with their family’s help, their old pull-behind is now a charming conversation piece. Mix in a dash of fun chalk art, a sprinkle of vintage decor along with their family’s favorite Key lime pie, and these two have stirred up a recipe for success.

Borrowing Bliss
When the Olson family had three daughters get married in a two-year span, they found themselves sitting on a gold-mine of wedding decor. In the aftermath of wedding bliss, an idea for renting out their inventory was sparked and their new business Somethings Borrowed was born. “We rent out a lot of decor and centerpieces for events and we also decorate for weddings,” said Olson. “With three weddings over two years, we had all of this stuff so we thought we could either get rid of it or do something with it. So, we have it all on display at Olson’s Furniture in downtown Fergus Falls, making it convenient for brides to go in and choose what they like.”

Vintage Camper Overhaul
Coming across a fixer-upper camper on a buy, sell and swap site, the two decided that a vintage camper-overhaul might be the perfect addition to their rental business. With the help of their husbands, Keith Olson, Kris Anderson, and Anderson’s brother, Brandon Olson their camper flip was completed in a mere six weeks. Now, they have a working sink and proper wiring for lighting.

“When we finished work on the camper last July, we named her Martha Barnaby and decided we wanted to be able to rent it out for mostly private events like weddings. It can be used as a bar, candy or ice cream stand and photo booth,” said Olson. “MacKenzie and Kris, at their wedding, had an ice cream truck. It was a novelty and something different, so we just wanted to be able to offer something unique and fun to our clients. Since then, we’ve done birthday parties, weddings, a dental office summer party and we’re looking forward to being the ticket booth at Junk Market in West Fargo this September. We’ll also be at Shop, Move and Groove in downtown Fergus Falls, which we did last year as well. Currently, we don’t have a food or liquor license, so private events are much better for us.”

Summer Vibes
“When we decided on making Key lime pie, we correlated our lake setting with limes and lemons to add that summer vibe,” said Anderson. “We also wanted to include some greenery and some flowers for summer – fresh flowers and greens add such a great pop to any staged event. We also have a beautiful collection of assorted china dishes that we’ve accumulated for wedding rentals. We used old wine barrels for the pie display and created a coffee table out of wooden boxes for something a little more interesting and whimsical.”

Chalkboard Art
“A really good friend of ours and artist, Vera Carlson, does the special chalkboard writing for us. If any of our clients request something written on a chalkboard, we usually contact her – she does a phenomenal job,” said Olson. “Since she’s located in Alexandria, Minn., we take the chalkboard to her and get it picked up so the bride doesn’t have to. We have three of these large chalkboards available for rent.”

Sharing a Vision
When it comes to decor and events, Anderson and Olson rarely disagree. “My mom and I work really well together, we can pretty much finish each other’s sentences,” said Anderson. “She can be thinking something, and without speaking, I can step in and finish it – we just get the same vision. There’s not much that we disagree on as far as how we think something should be set up.”

“When we work together to decorate a wedding, we’ll work for hours, straight through and kind of feed off of one another and finish each other’s projects,” said Olson. “It works out well because MacKenzie has a full-time job and I just retired from my career, so I can more easily take time to go meet with a bride or run out and pull things together for the event.”

Need to Know!
Although their camper can be seen at events all around the area, most people don’t know that the two also specialize in wedding decor and have a vast inventory to rent. “In most venues, you cannot get in until the morning of because a lot of places have been double-booking,” said Anderson. “Friday weddings have become a big thing, so we come in the morning or day of the event and get it decorated while the family is getting ready for pictures. Also, a lot of people don’t realize that they can rent the camper and we’ll bring it to them and pick it up after the event, so they don’t have to deal with it at all. We really want people to see that vision of what it can be. It can be a really fun central space for people to gather at during social hour for any type of event. We see it as a great conversation piece, photo booth, a serving bar, a candy bar – really anything you can imagine.”

Just completing their work on Martha Barnaby last spring, you’d think a vacation would be in order, but these two have already started their second overhaul. “We have another camper that we’ve already gutted, so we’re getting ready to take on a new camper remodel,” said Olson. “I’m going to turn this one into Cousin Camp for the grandkids. It’s in pretty bad shape right now though, so we have a lot of work ahead of us.”


Summertime Key Lime Pie
“This is a recipe that I’ve probably had for 20 years. It’s really simple but delicious – we make it all summer long and the whole family loves it,” said Olson.

1 – Shortbread crust
1 – can sweetened, condensed milk
1/2 – Cup lime juice
8 – Ounce extra creamy Cool Whip
2 – Teaspoon lime zest

Mix together and fill crust.
Garnish with lime zest or slices, then refrigerate.


For more information, contact:
Somethings Borrowed
Kim Olson, MacKenzie Anderson

Martha Barnaby
Somethings Borrowed
Chalkboard Art
Vera Carlson
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Stop Playing with Your Food

Words and photos by Anastasia de Celle In a whimsically appetizing print exhibition at the Spirit Room in downtown Fargo, artist Anna Kohnen explores childhood humor and the behavioral tendencies…

Words and photos by Anastasia de Celle

In a whimsically appetizing print exhibition at the Spirit Room in downtown Fargo, artist Anna Kohnen explores childhood humor and the behavioral tendencies which change as we become adults. Her series of three prints entitled, Stop Playing with Your Food, delves into the theory of how devouring a simple childhood snack like animal crackers can become a metaphor for the growing complexity of adulthood. Earlier this year, I spent a few days with her as she created one of the pieces, Circle of Life, taking it from concept to final edition.

Why Animal Crackers? 

As she was drawing out Circle of Life on the computer, I asked, “Why animal crackers? Where did the concept for this come from?” She smiled and explained how she noticed a difference between how children and adults eat animal crackers.

“I was doing various research on snacks from my childhood. I noticed specifically with animal crackers, adults and children eat them very differently. Children eat them without thought, like how they eat every other snack. But with adults, there is a trend that the act of eating an animal cracker takes conscious thought and could even question morals. I noticed that the adults were consciously eating animal crackers by first biting off the head, then the limbs, and then whatever is left of the cracker. I thought this was interesting, as well as horrifying – the fact that people will choose to eat a cracker in this calculated manner. I thought that this vast difference of eating an animal cracker was compelling and this fits in perfectly with my exploration of childhood versus adulthood research.”

Circle of Life 

I asked about the overall concept of her series. On cue, like she was reading from a script, she answered without pause: “Stop Playing with Your Food is a print series that explores the relationship between childish wonder, growing up and looking back on ‘better’ days. The series reflects a nostalgic state of being blissfully unaware by distorting childhood associations of objects and circumstances.”

“Through the use of common and iconic imagery, the viewer can connect with situations adults might interpret one way through the naivety and simplified vision of a child. These works aim to pair a sense of reality with a cartoonish style to reflect the curiosity, reasoning and ideas of these two groups. Stop Playing with Your Food emphasizes the skewed reality that results from memory and reflection.”

I replied with something along the lines of, “Wow, you’ve got that down word-for-word.” Kohnen, who just graduated with a Bachelor’s of Fine Art from NDSU, laughed and said, “Well, that’s what happens when you go to critique every single week for a year.”

Coffee Before Crackers

After spending a couple days working on her digital drawing, she finally came up with a design she was happy with. Now, it was on to the second phase of her process: printing. Kohnen’s medium of focus is printmaking while specializing in screen printing. But before heading over to the studio, she needed to run a very important errand – a coffee run. “Printing is a long process, coffee is a crucial point in that process, and for life in general,” explained Kohnen.

With the much-needed coffee bought and brewed, we headed over to NDSU’s Renaissance Hall where she spent an hour prepping her screen for printing. I asked her why she had chosen printmaking as her medium; why not something else? “I chose printmaking because it allows me to work fast and it gives me a result that is unique to the medium. Through the process of working with layers, I get to react to the piece as I’m printing it. There is always unexpected problem-solving involved in the printing process that creates a result that I could never plan and I like the results of it. Screen printing helps express my content because the medium is very bold and graphic by nature. That style fits in with my aesthetic and fits with the iconic imagery that I’m working with.”

Food for Thought

As I watched her print, I finally understood what she meant. As she worked, she was reacting to how the ink behaved depending on what material she printed on. The way the previous layer printed affected how she would print the next layer. The image she first created on the computer was now a completely different entity. The resulting image had taken on a whole new life. Just like her childhood inspiration, maybe Kohnen has stumbled upon a life worth savoring, one delicious crumb at a time.

About the Artist
Kohnen is an artist who works in printmaking and drawing, originally from Corcoran, Minnesota. She is an active artist in the Fargo-Moorhead area and has pieces in the Plains Art Museum archive. Kohnen was awarded NDSU’s Marguerite Scholar Tollefson and the Wayne Tollefson Scholarships for excellence in studio work in 2017. In 2018 Kohnen will graduate with her Bachelor of Fine Arts degree.

Meet the Artist!
Stop Playing with Your Food is a print exhibition by artist Anna Kohnen currently on display at the Spirit Room in Downtown Fargo. There will be an artist’s reception on Thursday, June 7 at 7 p.m., artist’s talk at 7:30 p.m. Exhibition hours are 1:00-5:00 p.m. Monday through Saturday through June 16th.Kohnen is producing the three prints from Stop Playing with Your Food in limited editions of 15 each. Prints can be ordered at the exhibition until sold out.For more information, contact:

Instagram: akohnen

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From Italy to Fargo… Recreating an Agriturismo Dining Experience [Laneil Skaff & Julie Stoe]

Words by Tracy Nicholson Photography by Dan Francis Photography On Laneil Skaff’s last day in Italy, she was tasked with finding the perfect restaurant to round out their adventure. A…

Words by Tracy Nicholson
Photography by Dan Francis Photography

On Laneil Skaff’s last day in Italy, she was tasked with finding the perfect restaurant to round out their adventure. A quick online search had their crew navigating an intense path of twisting roads into the hills of an old vineyard named Borgo La Casetta. According to the reviews, the bed and breakfast promised an unforgettable, Tuscan dining experience. Greeting them at the door amidst a picturesque, hill-top setting were chefs Renzo and Laura Morosi, delightfully friendly hosts that were thrilled to introduce them to authentic Tuscan cuisine. With no menu, no prices and countless courses, the vineyard turned Agriturismo café and inn, spent hours wining and dining the group with their fresh and seasonal fare, grown in their own backyard. Returning home with a glowing review of her own, Skaff’s daughter Julie Stoe was right behind her, planning her own trip to meet the now-infamous chefs. After a total of three trips to visit the inn between the two, Skaff and Stoe decided it was time to recreate their Tuscan experience, this time in Skaff Apartment’s beautiful Stone West kitchen and community room.

Agriturismo Inn-spiration
Nestled amidst the rolling hills, olive trees and vineyards of San Baronto, Italy, Borgo La Casetta would inspire Skaff and Stoe to gather as many of the Morosi’s recipes as they could, planning to translate them into their own style of cooking, then recreate them back home. With the inn located on a working farm, the chefs relied on seasonal ingredients, the finest meats and cheeses, as well as their own pressed olive oil for the base of their dishes.

Dining-In: Borgo La Casetta
Inside the property’s bed and breakfast, which was once a winery owned by Renzo Morosi’s family, the café offers guests a charming and intimate dining experience with just 10 small tables. “The chefs prefer reservations but seem happy to cook for anyone who arrives,” said Skaff. “It’s usually packed full of locals coming in for special occasions. Their son Marcello also works there and serves, while Renzo’s mom comes in to wash dishes some nights.

Worth Every Euro…
“On my first visit to Tuscany, I found the inn on Yelp – it was rated number one,” said Skaff. “We walked in and asked for an English menu and he said, ‘Oh, you’re here. Now I cook for you!’ The whole time we sat there, we wondered how much this was going to cost since we didn’t know what he would be serving us. After a few courses, we didn’t care because it was worth every penny for the experience. It was Chianti wine and Lemoncello made by Renzo, port wine, grappa and espresso. Grappa is just a liquor that is known to help break down food for better digestion. We had all of these drinks and about seven courses to go with them, bringing them out one at a time. It ended perfectly with the apple cake that you’ll find in this month’s recipes. The entire experience ended up costing 25 Euros each, which equates to about $30 a person.”

While Skaff visited Tuscany in 2013 and again last May, Stoe embarked on her own Italian adventure, last October. “We visited Renzo’s home because we really wanted that Tuscan experience that my mom had told me about,” said Stoe. “We looked him up and found out that we could stay at the inn, so we ended up in a cute little apartment and ate at the café every night. When we went deeper into the Chianti Classico region of Tuscany, we actually drove an hour and a half back just to eat there on our last night because it was so good. Renzo and Laura made something different every night – it was an amazing trip.”

“In Tuscan culture, they really value their family and their food; taking pride in the way they cook and serve each meal, savoring and appreciating the food they’ve grown.”
Julie Stoe

Americans versus Italians
If you’re planning a dinner in Italy, Stoe suggests carving out two to three hours devoted entirely to food. “In Italy, they always do multiple courses, starting with a charcuterie or antipasto selection, then a bruschetta, soup, pasta, meat, potato and different vegetables, a salad, then finish with a dessert,” said Stoe. “It’s just so different from how Americans dine. There are typically about five or more courses and the pasta is brought out separately from the meat with everything served family-style with smaller tasting plates.”

“They are also really proud of their meats and their process for making salami and sausage,” said Stoe. “When Renzo cooked for us, he’d always come out and tell us where the meats were from. He also gave us a new appreciation for good quality, fresh olive oil. Renzo taught us to cook with the cheap oil and save the best for the table. In Tuscan culture, they really value their family and their food; taking pride in the way they cook and serve each meal, savoring and appreciating the food they’ve grown.”


Bruschetta Basics
“Bruschetta in Italy is a little different than what we’d see in the U.S. They serve it with just straight olive oil and rub a whole garlic on the bread, that’s their classic bruschetta,” said Stoe. “They also serve it with egg and truffle oil, liver paté and the more recognizable tomato and basil – they really utilize their lands. Renzo makes his own olive oil, sometimes pressing it that day, so we were able to bring that back with us.”

“For their bruschetta, they tend to use what’s in season and find ways to cook with every part of it,” said Skaff. “Their bread is really a vehicle for anything they want to serve. They also use unsalted bread, which was really different than what we’re used to. In the middle ages, salt was heavily taxed. The bakers in Florence decided it was just too expensive and chose to live without it.”

Casio E Pepe
“We had this dish in Rome. Each area of Tuscany seemed to have a specialty pasta and this is the one Rome is famous for,” said Skaff.  “It uses that very thick spaghetti called bucatini. This is a very simplistic dish, but the key is high-quality ingredients. When we tried to bring this recipe back to the U.S., we found their pasta technique to be a little too difficult for the average cook. They use hot water and mash it all onto the sides of the bowl and keep mixing until it comes onto the spaghetti. This process is so foreign to us, so we were able to modify the recipe by adding a bit of butter to the cheeses, yet still using some of their easier techniques to get that same flavor.”

Renzo’s Chicken
“We love Renzo’s chicken and it’s become a family favorite for us,” said Stoe. “We couldn’t believe that he shared the recipe with us.”

Before you head to the store to stock-up, we asked Skaff to give us a few quick tips and tricks for the prep work:
– When the recipe calls for white wine, although most recipes call for a dry wine like Chardonnay, I prefer a little sweeter wine like a Pino Grigio.

–  When buying the cheeses, use the highest quality cheese your budget allows and ALWAYS buy a block and grate it yourself.

– When using herbs, take the time to heat or saute them with garlic to extract more flavor.
– If you often cook with tomato paste, try swapping out your cans for a tube of tomato paste. Most recipes only call for a tablespoon, so you’ll have a lot less waste.

Italian” as Apple Pie?
When Stoe and Skaff visited Italy, they both found out quickly that Italian apple pie is not actually pie at all. “To Americans, this would be considered more of an apple cake or tart,” said Stoe. “This was one of Laura’s favorite family recipes. I use very thin slices of apples and arrange them like Laura did, but once it’s in the oven, the dough will actually cook over them. It’s absolutely delicious.” Setting the perfect backdrop for the perfect finish, Skaff included the hand-dyed, yellow table runner she found on her last trip to Italy.

[Course 1]


Cheese(from left)
Pecorino Pepato, Italian – sheep’s milk
Boschetto Al Tartufo, Italian – semi-soft with white truffle shavings, cow and sheep’s milk

Teleggio- Lombardi, Italian – wash-rind cow’s milk
*These cheeses can be found at Luna in Fargo

Genoa Salami, Capicola ham, Pancetta, Prosciutto, Hard SalamiNote: “The balsamic and olive oil is from a small winery in Italy that we visited in Tuscany,” said Stoe. “Both of the wines are from The Casa Emma vineyard in the Chianti region.”

[Course 2]

Bruschettas and Garlic Toast

Garlic toast

Rustic Italian bread

Good, Extra Virgin Olive Oil

Garlic cloves – cut the short way

Slice bread thin, drizzle with EVOO and grill or toast

When toasted – rub with cut side of garlic

Scrambled Eggs w/Truffle Oil Bruschetta

2 – eggs

2 – Tbsp. cream or Half and Half

– Kosher salt and freshly ground pepper

– A couple of drops truffle oil or grated parmesan

Whisk eggs and cream together. Melt 1 Tbsp. butter in small skillet over medium heat. Pour in eggs using a rubber spatula – continue to scrape pan until eggs are almost scrambled. Drizzle in truffle drops or grated parmesan. Place on top of garlic toast and sprinkle pepper on top.

Tomato Bruschetta

6-7 plum tomatoes (I use many different kinds – whatever looks ripe and flavorful)

2 – garlic cloves – minced small

1 – Tbsp. EVOO

1 – tsp. balsamic vinegar

6-8 fresh basil leaves – chopped fine

Kosher salt and freshly ground pepper

Slice tomatoes in half and remove the seeds and stem. Dice small. Stir in garlic, EVOO, balsamic and basil. Add salt and pepper to taste. Place on top of garlic toast.


[Course 3]

Casio E Pepe

Makes 2 servings


6 – Oz. Pasta (bucatini-thick spaghetti or spaghetti)

3 – Tbsp. butter, cubed, divided

1 – Tsp. freshly cracked black pepper

¾ – C. Finely grated Grana Padano or Parmesan

1/3 – C. finely grated Pecorino Romano

Kosher salt


Bring water to boil. Season with salt. Add pasta and cook until al dente. Drain, reserving one cup of the pasta water. While pasta is cooking, melt 2 Tbsp. of the butter in a large skillet over medium heat. Add pepper and stir until toasted, one minute. Add ½ cup of the reserved pasta water to the skillet and bring to a simmer. Add pasta and remaining butter.

Reduce heat to low and add Grana Padano (or parmesan), stirring and tossing with tongs until melted.

Remove pan from heat. Add Pecorino Romano, again stirring and tossing until cheese melts, sauce coats the pasta, and pasta is cooked to your desired tenderness. Add more pasta water if the sauce seems dry.

Serve immediately.


[Course 4]

Renzo’s Chicken

15 – chicken legs- skinned and the top half of the bone cut off

2-3 Tbsp. Extra Virgin Olive Oil

1 – Tbsp. Fresh rosemary – chopped
1 1/2 – Tsp. – Fresh sage – chopped
3 – Cloves garlic – minced
1 1/2 – Tsp. kosher salt
1 – Tsp. Pepper
1 – glass white wine
3 – Tbsp. tomato paste
1 –  C. hot water
A handful of small black olives (optional)

Skin and cut the bone off of the drumstick; in cutting the bone – if you lay the drumstick so the bone is NOT flat on the cutting board, then come down with a good-sized knife, it should break quite easily.

In a large skillet, heat the olive oil over medium to med-high heat. Brown drumsticks – turning until all sides are brown – about 15 minutes total. Remove from pan and saute garlic and spices two to three minutes. Add wine and deglaze the pan. When the wine has cooked down most of the way, add tomato paste and water. Stir until combined and add chicken back in. Cover and turn down to simmer (low, slow boil) and simmer until the oil comes to the top of the sauce (approx. 30-45 minutes). Optional olives can be added at this time.
Serve and enjoy!


[Course 5]

Italian Apple Pie


7 – Tbsp. butter – room temperature

1 ¼  – C. sugar

3 – eggs

½ – C. milk

1 – C. white flour

2 – Tsp. baking powder

2 – Tsp. vanilla

Zest of one lemon

3-4 apples – very thinly sliced


Cream butter and sugar

Add eggs  – one at a time until incorporated

Pour in milk, flour, baking powder and lemon zest

Mix just until combined

Pour into at least a 9” pie plate

Scatter apples on top

Bake at 375 degrees for 40-45 minutes until center is done.


Renzo’s Recommendation:
“Before we left, Renzo highly-recommended we get our hands on this cookbook; Tuscan Cookery by Elisabetta Piazzesi, to help us create true Tuscan cuisine,” said Stoe. “There is everything from garlic toast to bruschetta variations and really all of the different courses. We often use this cookbook at home and have found some amazing recipes in there.”

Find the Food:
Cheese selection – Luna, Fargo
Wine selection – Casa Emma Winery, Florence, Italy
Via della Casetta – Extra Virgin Olive Oil, Borgo La Casetta InnPlan your trip!
Agriturismo Borgo La Casetta
Renzo and Laura Morosi
San Baronto, Italyinfo@borgolacasetta.it
borgolacasetta.itFor more information, contact:

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A “Home Away From Home” [Inside Fargo’s new Ronald McDonald House]

Words by Tracy Nicholson Photography by Britta the Photographer Since 1982, the Fargo Ronald McDonald House team has been striving to create a comfortable, home-like setting for out-of-town families dealing…

Words by Tracy Nicholson

Photography by Britta the Photographer

Since 1982, the Fargo Ronald McDonald House team has been striving to create a comfortable, home-like setting for out-of-town families dealing with a devastating diagnosis. This team knows all too well the effect that a childhood condition or disease can have on an entire family, adding new levels of emotional and financial stress that can elevate an already traumatic time. With more and more families seeking care in Fargo, the need to provide for them has only grown. After years of planning and fundraising, the team is proud to unveil the new, expanded Ronald McDonald House. This is a home in every sense of the word; built on our community’s generosity, with a foundation centered on family.

A Vision for Caring
When the RMH team found out about Sanford’s new campus in 2010, they decided it was time to start thinking about their strategic plan for the future. With their two existing homes busting at the seams, the team, led by executive director, Jill Christopher, started fundraising in 2015 and would eventually break ground at their new location last July.

Working with Foss Architecture + Interiors and Nor-Son, the RMH team was finally able to see their long-time vision become a reality. To design their dream house, the RMH team researched over 20 other Ronald McDonald Houses, taking their ideas to the architect and contractor. They would need to merge their two other homes into one new location. “Nor-Son was amazing at getting us a price that we could actually afford,” said Christopher.

“This community is incredibly generous. This is a five million dollar project and we’ve raised over $4.7 of that, so we are really close to our goal,” adds Christopher. “It was nice that our donors got a chance to jump on board early and be part of the vision that we were working towards. They all kind of found their space that really meant a lot to them. There are so many more amenities here and about 90% of our families go to the nearby Sanford. So, the location is key here. You can see the new house from Sanford, so it makes it really easy for our guests to find.”

Take a Tour!
Upon arrival, new families meet in a private office with staff of the Ronald McDonald House to plan their stay and learn more about the process. “We typically have families who will stay on average 10 days. Our longest stay has been about six months,” said Christopher. “Most of our families are coming from the NICU with premature babies, but we also work with cancer, eating disorders and everything in between. Families are able to self-refer to the house, but most of our families find out about it from the hospital staff. Our families are asked to pay only $20 a night if they are able, but no one is turned away if they cannot pay. Last year, 90% of our families paid nothing to stay here and we couldn’t do that without the donors that help make this possible.”

Across the hall, families can visit the library and the arts and crafts room. The library is a quiet place for parents who might be trying to work during their stay. In the arts and crafts room, guests will find a custom mural painted by artist, Emily Brooks.

Just past the entrance, staff now have access to a wing devoted to their office space, break room and administration. Right now RMH has only six full-time and three part-time staff members.

At the Heart of the Home
The RMH team made sure to design a kitchen that could accommodate multiple families and groups of volunteers who arrive daily to cook meals. Their design incorporates three kitchens, with one designated for volunteers. A larger pantry, three stoves, two sinks and two massive islands encompass the space with one area of accommodations designed for individuals with disabilities.

Envisioning a space at the heart of the home where their families could gather in a comfortable setting, their expansive dining room seats up to 30 at a time, overlooking the soon-to-be landscaped backyard and in close proximity to the rooms designated for teens and young children.

Caring for Kids
Just off the dining room, guests will find a special place just for the kids. Collaborating with Foss Architecture to design the playhouse, they were able to incorporate working lights, a mailbox, flowers and a doorbell. This space also features a reading and dress-up area designed to keep little ones happy and occupied.

“We have a boy who stayed with us over the course of about seven years during his cancer treatment. We saw how important it was that he was able to do normal kids things like playing with mega blocks, playing UNO and running around the house like children do. In this new location, we were able to bring all of those things plus a lot more,” said Christopher. “Even that little sense of normalcy when they don’t have a lot of normal in their life at that time makes a big difference.”

As the weather warms, their backyard landscape will be completed to include a fenced backyard with a Rainbow Play System and playhouse for the kids, which will be easily visible from the inside kitchen and dining area.

The Magic Room
With so many of their guest families going through trying times, the RMH team knew all too well that sometimes the kids needed a little extra magic to brighten their day. Paul Dezotell of Sioux Falls, S.D., created the beautiful wall leading to the area the team refers to as the “Magic Room”.

“They come to the entrance and after they say the magic words, the door opens automatically,” explained Christopher. “We have little costumes they can wear and they have to have the magic wand in their hand. When they enter the room, they get to choose one item from our walls of donated toys. It’s nice for the kids that might be here for care, but also really nice for their siblings if they’re feeling a little left out.”

Gaming & Theater Room
In their previous space, RMH noticed a lack of space for older kids and adults, so RMH designed a special gaming and theater room to better suit teens or adults. “We enjoyed working with the NDSU Student-Athlete Association and Fargo Pinball to pull this room together,” said Christopher. “They came in and designed the gaming and DVD systems with theater chairs that recline to watch the game as well as our Star Wars pinball machine.”

Still in the early stages, located on the first floor, guest will soon have a full fitness room stocked with equipment for the families to use during their stay.

“It’s more than a hotel or a place to sleep,” said Christopher. “It’s also them being able to have that support system from the volunteers and staff here and the other families staying here. After a day at the hospital, they can come back here and talk to people who know what they’re going through and have a real conversation about their day. This house is built to have those places to help them relieve some stress.”

Second Floor Living
With donations from La-Z-Boy and other generous donors, they were able to create a space near the guest rooms where families can relax, unwind and even enjoy a fun game night.

Just off of the family room, guests have access to a complimentary laundry room, complete with four washers and dryers.

Guest Rooms
The second floor features 12 guest rooms, most of them sleeping four people with private bathrooms and blackout curtains for those who need to sleep during the day. Two of their rooms provide for larger families and are able to sleep six with one ADA room featuring larger turn radiuses for wheelchairs and a roll-in shower design.

All of the mattresses were donated by Tempurpedic with furniture donated by Solid Comfort. Mini-fridges will be coming soon and every family gets a welcome blanket which they’ll find at the end of their bed. “The blankets we have now were given in memory of a little boy who stayed with but has since passed away,” said Christopher. “A group of his FCCLA people from his hometown made them which is really sweet, it makes me smile to see them.”

To set a beautiful tone, one of their board member’s sons, Micah Zimmerman donated his photography images and Solid Signs printed them for artwork to be hung in the guest rooms. “Every guest room will have the same images, with one being a little more Minnesota and the other more North Dakota, so it relates to all of our visiting families,” said Christopher.

Ready for Expansion!
With growth inevitably on the way, the team is planning for seven more guest rooms that are currently shelled-in on the third floor. Right now, 17 of their 24 total rooms are finished.


Did you Know?

In 1977, a social worker in Fargo, Wayne Allard, noticed that too many families with sick children in Fargo were sleeping on floors or in their car due to financial issues. With the help of a mother of a child with leukemia, he set out to make a change, eventually spearheading the 1982 opening of the first Fargo Ronald McDonald House on North Broadway. In May of 2005, the second Fargo Ronald McDonald House was opened on South University Drive.


Built for the Future
“We are sad to leave our previous homes behind, but this new home has really brought us into a modern era of how people want to live today and how we can serve them better – it just provides so much more opportunity for our families and our growth,” said Christopher. “We also have expansion capabilities on the third floor plus the ability to add-on in the future.”

This new building will allow the RMH team to incorporate more programming and activities for the families they care for. “We have Beta, our therapy dog and we will be able to incorporate more things like having coffee and conversation programs, art therapy, music and different things that might bring some families comfort that we weren’t able to do in our old building,” explained Christopher. “We’re also working on a project with Essentia to put in a small space over there for families in the NICU called ‘The Family Room’. This project is still in the works, going through state approvals right now.”

Volunteer your Time
For those who are considering volunteering, we encourage you to take the leap. “We have almost a thousand volunteers a year that come in and share their talents, make meals, clean, organize or help with events,” said Christopher. “That’s something that really means a lot to us and allows us to do what we do with a very small staff of nine people. The community that we live in and the people that are willing to help us are incredible.”

Donate to the Ronald McDonald House!
The new home is fully donation-funded. “We couldn’t do this without the donors; from everyone who gives money, whether it’s five dollars or five thousand dollars, it all adds up,” said Christopher. “We couldn’t have made this happen or run this home without the volunteers and donors.”

“Some of the things we need right now are Keurig K-Cups, paper towels, Clorox wipes and Swiffer cleaning items,” said Christopher. “K-Cups are really popular with our families because they can come down and make the coffee they want, which is a small thing, but it means a lot to our families. Also, our laundry is free for families, so we’re always in need of laundry detergent. Obviously, monetary donations are always helpful, but we take donations of blankets, toys, food, any type of paper product – really anything you would use in your own home, we’d probably be able to use here.”

Find the Finishes:
Architect – Foss Architecture + Interiors
Contractor – Nor-Son
Theater chairs – Ashley Homestore
NDSU Bison gear – NDSU Student-Athlete Association
Signage – Office Sign Company
Guest room furniture – Solid Comfort
Guest room artwork – Micah Zimmerman, Solid Signs
Family room tent – Modern Textiles
Family room furniture – La-Z-Boy
Dining tables – Furniture Mart
Magic room wall design – Paul Dezotell, Paul Dez Arts
Arts and crafts mural – Emily Brooks
Playhouse – Foss Architecture + Interiors

For more information on donating to the Ronald McDonald House, contact:
Ronald McDonald House Charities of the Red River Valley
4757 Agassiz Crossing South, Fargo
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A Repurposed Life – The Grain Elevator Project: Phase 1

Words by Tracy Nicholson Photography by Dan Francis Photography Historic photos and plans provided by Dahm’s Design Scott Dahm photographed with his golden retriever Piper, inside his Baker, M.N., grain…

Words by Tracy Nicholson
Photography by Dan Francis Photography
Historic photos and plans provided by Dahm’s Design

Scott Dahm photographed with his golden retriever Piper, inside his Baker, M.N., grain elevator home.

This winter’s record-breaking, low temps haven’t been easy for anyone, but if you’re Scott Dahms and trying to renovate a grain elevator, it’s been an epic challenge.
Just a short drive south of Sabin, Dahms’ industrial home is located in the town of Baker, M.N. Although it’s a work-in-progress, it’s come a long way since day one when it was considered merely a dilapidated landmark along highway 52. When we found out he was currently residing in it with his two sons, we had to get a glimpse of what it’s like to renovate and live in a rural grain elevator.

Don’t try this at home. Scott Dahms is a licensed architect and contractor with his business Dahms Design. Even he doesn’t recommend taking on a project like this unless you either have an unlimited budget or the skills to do the work. Even with the knowledge, you’re likely going to need the help of someone like his project manager, Tom Meyer, and a whole lot of patience.

Phase 1
Since purchasing the elevator for $15,000 on Craigslist last December, Dahms has transformed the space into a shop and apartment space he’s proud to call home. Those who at one time thought he had lost his mind with this purchase, are now taking another look. Dahms and Meyer have countless hours of sweat equity into demo work, preservation and giving the space basic functions like running water, heat and electricity. Beyond these challenges, Dahms was able to create a kitchen near the main entrance, a dining room, office, bathroom and lofted family room with a second-story bedroom. While some of the spaces are completed or near completion, many of the rooms are a work-in-progress. For Dahms, building basic function and making it livable for him and his two sons, was the main goal. The additional space also needed to function for his architecture and contracting business, Dahms Design.

Rural Life in Baker
Dahms’ grain elevator is located in the small, rural town of Baker, Minnesota, and township of Alliance, just to the South of Sabin. Local historians can tell you that in the 1930s Baker was once a booming town often visited by those grabbing a train ride to the popular dance hall. With the addition of the interstate system, the hustle and bustle slowed and now a mere 55 people inhabit the town, all eager to share their stories. “When we first started working on it, there was a person a day stopping in to tell us a story from the past,” said Dahms. “Either their dad once worked here or they did. I’ve got a newspaper clipping that one guy dropped off from when the previous elevator that was here, burned down. Another guy dropped off an old stapler and actual grain bags from when it was the Red River Grain elevator.” The elevator has actually had three lives when it was still in business, with a couple of fires prompting rebuilds.

“When we first started working out here in March or April, we came in and started throwing stuff out and people would come by asking what we were doing. You could just see the questioning in their eyes of what we were trying to do. After about three or four months, people started seeing that we were making headway. I think they started to actually believe that these guys might get something done,” laughed Meyer.

“We’ve been extremely blessed with the surrounding community. It’s been such warm welcome,” said Dahms. “One of the first days I was out here, using a weed-wacker to cut down weeds, one of the farmers came over and said, you know, why don’t I bring my machine over here and I’ll get this done. I’m not very good at asking for help on things, but the next day I came out they were completely gone. He had done the old trees, brush, ditch, everything,” laughed Dahms. “Sometimes people just stop by and see how we’re doing.”

Weathering the Elements
“We bought this thing in February and we just went gangbusters on it all summer long. It was too big of a project to get completely buttoned-up by the time we needed. Plus, that surprise cold-snap in October, we thought that was it,” said Dahms. “We also had to keep revenue coming in from our other jobs. So, when we go in the other shop room, you’ll probably see drifts inside from the other night. When the storm came through, it went from nice in here to freezing the pipes in a matter of a few hours. We were smart enough to put in shut-offs so I can easily shut things off and drain lines if I have to. You almost have to change your way of thinking in terms of what a normal home does.” For Dahms, one of the biggest challenges right now is the plumbing. The property is not big enough for a drain field, so in terms of septic, he relies on tanks. As Dahms explained, this is a big project he needs to tackle before moving on to the other spaces.

“The thing with this project is, you get frustrated, but you just have to laugh,” said Dahms. “This project is overwhelming, but it’s exactly how I want it to be. I’m going through a propane tank about every two to three weeks which is usually $600 to $700 dollars. But, I don’t write a check to a bank or landlord every month, so when the first of the month comes, I’m not stressed out about it.” One small perk is that Dahms actually gets free internet by allowing the provider to use his elevator as a tower. He also won’t likely have a cooling bill in the summer. There happen to be two, 20-feet-deep pits on the other side of the elevator with ice build-up in them. With a little pipe fabrication, these will serve as free, geothermal air-conditioning.

Ignoring Rationale
If anyone’s wondering what inspires someone to take on a project of the magnitude, Dahms will tell you that it was a lot of life changes. After a divorce, he bought the elevator and a Porsche he’s wanted since he was eight-years-old. “It’s a total 180 of what I was doing before, which is exactly where I think I was meant to be,” said Dahms. “Sometimes you can’t bring rational thinking into it because it can kill the dream so to speak. For everything I know as an adult or as a responsible person, it doesn’t make sense. A banker is not going to step in and borrow money for this. What’s my resale value on this? Someone could buy it, but if I ever have an issue and have to go to a realtor and have them list my house, it’s not going to work. It’s a huge gamble but worth it.”

“Sometimes you can’t bring rational thinking into it because it can kill the dream so to speak.”
Scott Dahms – Dahms Design


Climbing Mountains
“We still have a long way to go in here. We’ve gone through a good number of guys this year. What we are doing is not for everybody, it takes a special breed I guess,” said Dahms. “I figure what better way for an architect and contractor to show what you can do than take on turning an elevator into a house. I’m proud to say it’s Dahms Design. Not everyone can do this type of work,” said Meyer.

“When you step back and look at this place, it’s a man and a mountain, really. The way we’ve approached this is small, little hills. We’ll get to the top eventually.”
Tom Meyer, Project Manager, Dahms Design

“I knew it was either going to be the best thing I ever did or the worst. I have a great support system of friends and family, so if I failed I knew I’d just start all over again and figure it out.”
Scott Dahms, Dahms Design

Living Space:
With a view to the prairie and railroad beyond, Dahms built his living space within the old bin site of the elevator. Using many of the original bin walls, which display the unique, stacked wood referred to as cribbing, Dahms has lent his living quarters an organic and raw warmth. Not at all influenced by design trends, he instead lets basic function and the historic elements of his space speak for themselves. In fact, Dahms takes pride in using salvaged material whenever possible, utilizing his own design sense to make it work. He estimates that around 80% of the finishes he’s used to build the living spaces have been salvaged or repurposed.

On the second level in loft-style quarters, is where Dahms’ bedroom, another small loft and future second bathroom are located. The space is functioning right now but is currently another project Dahms plans to complete down the road.

Displaying a bit of the elevator’s original character and personal nostalgia, Dahms displays skateboards and vintage signs on an original wall that once occupied the old manager’s office for the elevator.

What looks like an old chalkboard on the wall of the shop is actually the original bin board that was once used to identify all 42-grain storage bins. It’s been here so long that there’s no point in moving it as you’d still see the impression of where it was. Meyer pointed out that between 33 and 35, you’ll find the open bay where Dahms’ apartment is now located. This spot was once the location of three of the elevator’s bins.

Raising the Roof on Raising Kids
“Now that we’re in, the boys love it here. They’re eight and five and this place is kind of like Peter Pan and the island for them. Our first summer was great when the boys didn’t have school. We were working on this place, we had a firepit and we were grilling out every night.”

For Dahms, part of the fun of raising two boys in a rural environment is creating an authentic, small-town atmosphere for them to grow up in. “To open the garage door and watch your kids roll out on their dirt bikes, that’s pretty cool,” said Dahms. “There are a couple other kids in town and they come over. I set up a pool and trampoline for them. So, now the other boys will come over and swim, get out and jump on the trampoline, then go ride their dirt bikes around, have Nerf gun wars and build forts. It’s exactly the scenario that everyone talks about when we were their age. It’s kind of how the old neighborhoods used to be. I don’t have to be some helicopter dad, I know all of the other parents.”

Phase 2:
The goal we have for the winter is to try and find the right contact to take out all of the machinery that’s on the other side. Through that door is all of the old machinery that goes up to 75 feet. Once we get rid of that, we can get into that space and reconfigure our shop so a lot of it will go there. Eventually, we will have to repel down the inside of it and power wash each bin.” No stranger to the dangers of this project, Dahms is determined to find a means to conquer it.

In order to plan his next move on the remainder of the elevator, Dahms tracked down the original plans so he can better understand the complicated spaces and challenges that exist within his home’s walls.

On the Horizon:
Once the original equipment is removed in the bin space, Dahms has plans to put his focus on creating two bedrooms for his sons. “Anything I do in here is not going to be conventional. My boys are going to have double-decker, two-story rooms, so almost like little apartments. I’m just toying around with so many ideas. With a space this big, we could have a 75-foot rock-climbing wall if we wanted.”

This is one of the elevator’s original bin corridors separated by a door that leads to his apartment. There are countless corridors just like this one that Dahms has big, future plans for.

Beyond the living spaces, Dahms has been toying around with what to do with the additional square footage and height. One of his ideas for the future is to create studio spaces for artists to come and work. “I think having an element like that with my boys growing up here, would be extremely valuable to them,” said Dahms.

A skateboarder at heart, Dahms considers himself a big kid who has no intention of growing up. Inheriting some ramps from Watertown, South Dakota, Dahms plans to build a skate park on the north side slab. “I grew up skateboarding – if you were skateboarding in the 80s in North Dakota, you were automatically classified as drug-dealing satanist,” laughed Dahm. “It’s kind of one of those classic stories where teachers think you’re never going to turn out to be anything.”

These days, Dahms still enjoys tooling around on the skateboard, but he also loves being an unorthodox architect and contractor. “It’s fun, but I don’t wear nice shoes and I like having a level of knowledge that in this day and age people treat you for what they see at face value. I like just flying under the radar a bit. I’m 44 years-old and I don’t consider myself a grown-up. Why would I start now?”

Interested in following Dahm’s upcoming elevator adventures?
Midwest Nest Magazine will be keeping in touch with Dahms over the course of this project. Keep reading for exclusive follow-up stories on the grain elevator’s progress.

For more information, contact:
Dahms Design
Scott Dahms

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Vintage Winter

Words by Tracy Nicholson Photos by J. Alan Paul Photography You may remember Vonda and Jim Leiner from last month’s issue when we showcased their fall design while they hosted…

Words by Tracy Nicholson

Photos by J. Alan Paul Photography

You may remember Vonda and Jim Leiner from last month’s issue when we showcased their fall design while they hosted a dinner with their brick-fire pizza oven. This time, we’re back to give you a glimpse of their winter wonderland. Every year, the Leiners decorate their home, not just for the holidays, but as an ode to the entire winter season. They love to entertain and guests equally love to visit, exploring the couple’s seasonally-changing decor and rare, vintage finds.

Inspired by Winter 
When it comes to the holidays, the Leiners believe that each and every room should have a touch of winter wonderland. “It’s for us just as much as it is for entertaining,” said Vonda Leiner. “People usually can’t believe that we have our tree’s lights on so early, but to me, they’re just lights. I don’t think of it as just for Christmas. So, for the winter months, I kind of prefer more of a winter scene.”

One of the features Vonda Leiner is most excited about this year is her dining room centerpieces comprised of an unexpected item, repurposed tree stands, painted white. Only one is a newer version, while the other two are rare vintage finds.

Their centerpiece isn’t the only unexpected decor. If you look closely at the table runner, you’ll see that Vonda Leiner used shipping paper that is typically used for wrapping fragile items. They also love changing out the decor on the large branch hanging over their dining table. For the winter months, each branch is adorned with a mix of new and vintage snowflake crystals. To the Leiners, anything and everything is capable of architectural artistry.

The Leiner’s massive, vintage pendant lights came out of the old Dayton’s department store. Vonda Leiner worked there for about 20 years and when they were going through remodels, employees were offered a chance to bid on various items.

“It’s not your normal looking kitchen because there aren’t a lot of cabinets,” said Vonda Leiner. “Most of the storage is hidden.” The drawers below the authentic, brick oven pull out to hold approximately 500 pounds. The butcher block island is solely comprised of pull-out storage and the refrigerator is hidden behind the knotty alder facade. Jim Leiner, a custom cabinetmaker at Wood Specialists for over 30 years, specially designed the commercial-size sink to include cutting boards while creating a special baking section for Vonda Leiner which simplifies clean up. There’s a hidden TV, microwave and two dishwasher drawers. Every bit of cabinetry and all of the custom finishes were designed and completed by the Leiners.

“With Jim being able to build the cabinets and do all of the finish work, that really helps us be able to live in this type of home. Anything that you can do yourself like the flooring, landscaping, painting – that’s an investment. This house comes from a lot of nights, holidays and weekends of hard work,” said Vonda Leiner.

“Winter is my favorite time of year, so I love when the snowflakes are sticking to the outside of this window. I try to bring that snowy look inside,” said Vonda Leiner. Lending a snowy facade to her kitchen window, these pots were once brown, terracotta that she painted white and finished with glitter to match the painted deer stags overlooking her wooded backyard.

Repurposing the Past
“Jim and I love going to flea markets. That clock is actually an old picnic table, then we found the hinges at another place and thought, why wouldn’t these hinges be cool as the quarters on the hour, then get a clock kit and put it together? I also have a lot of things from family,” said Vonda Leiner. “I like things with Karma and I think there’s a spirit that they give from the past.” For holiday decor, Vonda Leiner kept it natured-inspired with pinecones, trees, deer stags, white lights and greens.

Ski Lodge Love
If you’re a guest to their home, you’ll notice several Maplelag prints, vintage skis and various nods to winter lodges. Jim Leiner grew up in Montana and these pieces represent a small remnant of his past and a beautiful inspiration to them both.
Vonda Leiner’s winter vibe begins in the fall when she changes out the yellow, floral “summer pillows” for warmer throws and ski lodge-inspired, cross pillows.

With the high ceilings in their family room, the Leiner’s use a vintage, red-painted table to elevate their Christmas tree to new heights. At the base of the tree, they incorporated a galvanized tub to hide the tree stand.

Just off of the kitchen and past the antique, red doors the Leiners display an array of vintage and antique chippy items, her mom’s artwork and a winter-inspired mix of pillows with Kriss Lecocq’s grommet adorned linen pillows.

The Leiners found the powder room’s vanity at an antique store in Stillwater, S.D. For a different vibe, they installed a tin ceiling and salvaged shutters. Vonda Leiner happened upon the shutters en route to the dumpster, while working at Scheels Home & Hardware years ago. “For us, our style is just us and it evolves over time, we don’t go to the furniture store and buy the set,” explained Vonda Leiner.

“For the office, we just tried to decorate it more like a library or a men’s club, so that’s why I did the pheasant feathers and pinecones,” said Vonda Leiner. Jim Leiner built the elaborate ceilings and knotty alder built-in details that can be converted to a guest bedroom with a murphy bed. The desk is said to be from a train station in Sioux Falls, S.D and the vintage, leather chair is from an antique store in Arizona. Elaborate stained glass and antique windows accent the more masculine space. “I did a special wallpaper technique in this room and we used 10-inch-wide, plank floors that we hand-drilled and hand-hammered old-fashioned, square nailheads into. Then we took chains and pry bars to distress the wood.”

Winter Warmth
“In the winter, decorating for me is kind of like how we dress, we layer things more. So, in the spring I take down some of those layers and replace the winter pillows with floral pillows. I worked with Julie Alin for a little while at Scheels Home & Hardware and she and I were once managers at Dayton’s. The design department at Scheels used to call me “Mrs. Waverly” because I like mixing fabrics and patterns,” laughed Vonda Leiner.

In the entry, the Leiners repurposed an old dentist table underneath a beautiful, cross-stitched art piece crafted by Vonda Leiner’s sister. If you noticed the jars on the floor, you’re probably wondering why. “We feed our squirrels and they’ll come up and eat peanuts right out of our hands. So, our little friend Karly lives next door and she always wants to eat the squirrel’s peanuts, so we finally got a jar just for her,” laughed Vonda Leiner.

In the style of an outdoor kitchen, complete with crown molding, the Leiners have a grill with custom hood venting, popcorn maker that Jim Leiner refurbished as well as a chef’s chalkboard. The Leiner’s Diner neon sign was a gift from a neighbor. “Jim should get just as much credit in the design, he’s very creative and has an eye for art, design and scale,” said Vonda Leiner.

On the porch, you might notice a large tree branch as an architectural focal point. When the Leiners were first building their home, they saw that their neighbors were cutting down trees and they asked if they could have it for their decor.

In the planters, Vonda Leiner uses galvanized pipe, real berries, greens from Hornbacher’s and oversized pinecones. To warm up their outdoor spaces, the Leiners use blankets they found in the military surplus section at Fleet Farm. “Our old neighbors and longtime friends cut boughs for us out at their lake cabin. So I put these greens everywhere and up in the beams in the entry,” said Vonda Leiner.

“We were at an auction and we saw this mailbox, it used to hang on a building. We actually had to go outside and call the U.S. government to make sure that we could use this as a mailbox. As long as it’s at the right code height and distance from the road, they were fine with it,” explained Vonda Leiner.

In the backyard, Jim Leiner used two sizes of galvanized, stock tanks to create a fire pit, complete with a permanent gas line from the house. Pink winter berries and green boughs accent vintage, metal pots leading to the back patio.

A Labor of Love
“I’ve never followed what’s happening in the design world. Jim and I have never built a house for resale. We build it to what we want to do, then if it sells it sells. And with this house, I didn’t want when people walked in, for them to be able to say, “Oh, that was built in 2009,” based on the trends. We actually built this in 2004. If you noticed on the front porch, we have the galvanized tin up on the ceilings and in our back sunroom off of our bedroom, we have sliding barn doors. We tried to do a different ceiling in every room. So, I kind of feel like we were doing some of these things before they were trendy,” laughed Vonda Leiner.

“This is our fifth home and we started with a 90-year-old home in North Fargo. When Jim and I first got married, we didn’t know that we could do this together,” said Vonda Leiner. We just started and the latter four houses we’d design, then have a contractor get us to the sheetrock, and after that, we’d physically do everything ourselves; landscaping, sprinklers, decks and basement. We’ve put our hearts and souls into it. I don’t want to just say it’s a house that somebody built. It was really built with love and every ounce of sweat, energy and tears. “

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Family & Food – 6 Must-Have Holiday Recipes from the Kitchen of David Baxter

Words by Tracy Nicholson Photos by Dan Francis Photography If your holiday menu is still at-large, this is one story you need to read. Meet David Baxter, he’s the key…

Words by Tracy Nicholson

Photos by Dan Francis Photography

If your holiday menu is still at-large, this is one story you need to read. Meet David Baxter, he’s the key to your best holiday meal yet. During the week, he’s a State Manager with PMA/Washington National and travels between four states focusing on supplemental insurance. Arriving back in town on Thursday nights, Baxter shifts focus to his two other loves, family and food. Married to interior designer Ami Baxter, these two are a well-oiled machine in the kitchen and know the secret recipe for entertaining with ease.


Prime Rib Perfection
The perfect prime rib can be tricky, so before we share David Baxter’s recipes, we asked him to share a few of his grill master secrets. “The biggest thing I always make sure to do when grilling, is to bring the meat to room temperature before I put it on the grill. If it’s frozen or even somewhat cold, the meat won’t get as juicy,” said Baxter. “Also, this makes a big difference with the seasoning. When you put salt on the meat and put it right on the grill it does something different. But, when you season it and leave it, the salt will actually penetrate and can help break up the fat a bit. When you’re going to put something on the Green Egg, it pays to take your time. I always tell people to over-season since you will naturally lose a lot in the process of cooking.”

Big Green Egg Vs. Gas Grill
“The first thing we ever made on a Big Green Egg was chicken, and when we were done, I tried an apple pie on it,” said Baxter. “After that, I was hooked and we never went back to a gas grill. Our friends from Alabama, Anna and Dustin Harris, who used to live in Fargo, had three of these Big Green Eggs. At that time, I didn’t know anything about them. He showed me how he cooked brisket, an amazing breakfast entree and Boston butt which is like pork shoulder. So, he’s the one that actually showed me how much better it was than gas grilling.”

For Baxter, patience is a virtue that is required in the kitchen and especially while grilling up his masterpieces. “I think that if you master the low and slow concept on the Big Green Egg, and learn to be patient, that’s the best way to cook,” said Baxter. “A lot of people like to turn the grill on for five minutes and be able to throw their steaks on it. At the end of the day, if you want something that tastes amazing, it takes time. You can still cook fast things on it, but it probably takes about 15-20 minutes to be ready to grill. I like the Big Green Egg because it can keep everything at a constant temperature, very low, with consistency. After a while, it’s kind of like a Dutch oven with the added flavors built-in.”

Garnishing Greatness
Every good chef knows that creating over-the-top dishes requires proper seasoning and the perfect, complimentary garnish. To take his grilled carrots to the next level, Baxter relies on candied bacon for a little crunch and sweetness.

When it comes to prime rib, he is all for garnishes with a punch of flavor and varying textures. “Some people like mushrooms on steak, but I prefer them on prime rib with a bit of fried onion and coarse horseradish,” said Baxter. “To make the mushroom garnish, I just used a little bit of butter, oil and balsamic vinegar with about a 1/4 teaspoon of Worcestershire sauce. Then I get the mushrooms hot and keep flipping them until they’re soft and just a tinge crispy.”

Southern Inspiration
“Ami and I went to this place out in Nashville a month ago and they did a whipped feta honey and served it with warm, pita bread. We loved it and it has such a smooth consistency, so I thought it might be the perfect addition to mash potatoes. The pomegranate as a garnish and in the gravy gives you just a little bit of sweetness to compliment the savory.”

“For the gravy, I used Four Roses Bourbon, but the trick is to put the bourbon in after the onions start to carmelize, letting the alcohol burn off. You want the aged, oak barrel taste that bourbon has, not the alcohol taste,” said Baxter. “Then I start to dilute it down. When I did my carrots, I basically did a crudite putting it in boiling water for five minutes. So I kept that carrot water and used some of it to dilute the gravy. Also, when your prime rib is done, make sure to put a cast iron skillet under it to gather the drippings to include in your gravy. Another tip is to use cornstarch as a thickener, not flour. Cornstarch won’t leave a floury aftertaste and your gravy will stay clearer and more flavorful.”

Labor of Love
In their household, David Baxter does most of the heavy cooking, while his wife, Ami Baxter manages the sidelines, cleaning up after each course and often prepping and chopping ingredients. Even though she can hold her own in the kitchen, she prefers to take a backseat to allow David to run the show. “It’s a good trade-off, she doesn’t like to cook and I don’t like to clean,” laughed Baxter.

Reinventing Recipes
Ask Baxter his thoughts on altering recipes, and he’ll tell you that being precise is over-rated. “A lot of people look at a recipe and they have to follow it step-by-step. If I don’t have the exact ingredient, it challenges me to figure out another way. Baking is a science, but cooking is an art. When you’re cooking, the amounts don’t need to be perfect,” said Baxter. “I think really good cooks, over time, continue to change their recipes. I grew up watching both of my parents cook and my Aunt Kathy, who wrote a couple of cookbooks, would always spend time teaching me in the summertime. From this, I learned that I have to be patient and not afraid to fail. I’ve had plenty of things not turn out the first time. It just takes time to improve and learn what works and what doesn’t.”

Entertaining with Ease
Through trial and error, Baxter has learned to have a plan of attack when entertaining. “Figure out your menu in advance and make sure all of your ingredients are prepped and ready to use the night before,” explained Baxter. “You’ll notice some of the ingredients are repeated throughout each of the dishes, so you can multi-task the prep of those. The biggest reason why people get frustrated in the kitchen is that they waste too much time focusing on prepping and chopping for each dish, one at a time. The same goes for seasonings. I usually have mine measured out and ready to go before I start cooking.”

Plating Perfection
If you want to make sure everything is hot when you plate it, Baxter suggests knowing how long everything takes to cook and scheduling a time to work on them in order of cook time. “It also really helps to have someone help and hold you accountable for each dish. Ami and I make a good team that way, she makes sure I have the right ingredients and helps keep track of every step so each dish is hot and ready for plating at the same time.”

Get the Recipes:

Rosemary and Garlic-Crusted Prime Rib
1. 5lb bone-in prime rib – bring to room temp over 4-5 hours.
2. Heavy coating with a seasoning of your choice when prime rib is at room temp.
3. Fire-up Big Green Egg to 550 degrees with lump.
4. Add 4 blocks of wet hickory and let burn until heavy white smoke stops and grill hits 500 degrees again.
5. Put prime rib on indirect heat for 30 mins. Put a cast iron skillet below prime rib with 1/2” water to catch drippings.
6. Shut down all vents completely.
7. Let prime rib stay in the Big Green Egg until internal temp hits 135 degrees.
8. Pull off prime rib and let rest until internal temp hits 140 degrees (medium rare).
9. Garnish with horseradish, sautéed mushrooms, fried onions and Au Jus.

Pomegranate Au Jus
1. Sauté 1/4 cup of yellow onion and 1 clove of garlic with 1 tablespoon butter.
2. Add 1/4 cup of pomegranate juice, 1/4 cup of pomegranate seeds and 1 ounce of favorite bourbon. Reduce to simmer for 30 minutes.
3. Add in prime rib drippings (approximately 2 cups) with 1 cup of water and continue to simmer for 15 minutes.
4. Strain Au Jus through a filter.
5. Bring Au Jus back to a simmer and thicken with cornstarch. Add cornstarch until you feel the Au Jus getting ever-so-slightly heavier. It will continue to thicken on its own.
6. Remove from heat after 5-7 minutes of thickening. Set aside covered.


Whipped Feta and Honey Mash
1. Boil 9 large, peeled potatoes until cooked through.
2. In a separate bowl combine 1/4 cup of honey, 1 1/2 cup of feta, 2 tablespoons of butter, and 1/2 cup of cream cheese. Whip ingredients until the consistency is smooth.
3. Add in potatoes and blend until smooth.
4. Garnish with tarragon and rosemary.


Candied Bacon, Grilled Carrots
1. Peel 8 large carrots and trim tops.
2. Lay out 8 strips of applewood bacon on a cooking sheet with tinfoil. Sprinkle 2 tablespoons of brown sugar and drizzle 1/2 tablespoon of sriracha over bacon – about 3 drops for each piece.
4. Bake at 325 until edges begin to crisp.
5. Quickly remove bacon from cooking sheet and transfer to a non-stick parchment paper until cooled. Then chop bacon into garnish size pieces.
6. Bring a large pot of water to a rapid boil and submerge carrots for 4-5 minutes until softened. Dry carrots thoroughly and toss in olive oil and salt.
7. Add carrots to high heat on Big Green Egg for 1-2 minutes on each side until grill marks form. Remove from heat and let rest for 5 minutes.
8. Cut carrots diagonally and garnish with candied bacon.


Grilled Zucchini & Summer Squash
1. Cut 2 medium zucchini and summer squash in half, lengthwise.
2. Toss in olive oil, salt, and pepper.
3. Add to high heat for 3-4 minutes each side until cooked through and grill marks form.
4. Remove from heat and diagonal cut. Garnish with Irish Cheddar Cheese.

Savoring the Leftovers
Baxter is known for honing his culinary skills while entertaining guests, but only his family knows how creative he can be with the leftovers. After you’ve made his prime rib perfection, you’re going to need a plan to make something spectacular, so not one single morsel goes to waste. We asked Baxter to offer up some culinary advice and one of his family’s favorite recipes for making good use of great prime rib.

Remnants of the Holidays
Baxter suggests saving the ends of vegetables that get chopped up, so they can be frozen and later made into vegetable broth. “When you’re ready to use them, throw them in a pot with some water, let them rest for four hours on simmer, then strain out the vegetable remnants,” said Baxter. “You can pretty much do the same for any chicken remnants and bones to make chicken broth.”

Fast Food at Home
The Baxter’s live an extremely busy life with their three children under the age of eight, Fuschia, Scarlett and Harrison. Ami Baxter owns her own Interior Design firm, while David Baxter is on the road for work, traveling Monday through Thursday between four states.

“When the kids get home, they don’t want to wait an hour or more to eat, so I like making a meal plan for the week,” said Baxter. “In our house, we love leftovers. When I get back into town for the weekend, I’ll plan out my meals, sometimes making a big pot of soup for them, chicken or lasagna. Then Ami and the kids will use those leftovers through Thursday night when I get home, then we do it all over again. If you cook prime rib on Sunday, you know that you can probably have two or three meals from the leftovers. We would then do stroganoff, beef stew and probably thin-sliced prime rib sandwiches.”

Leftover Prime Rib Stew
1. Trim 1 1/2 pounds of the leftover prime rib. Remove all the visible fat and cut into 1/2” chunks.
2. Heat a large skillet. Add 2 tablespoons of vegetable oil and the prime rib. Season lightly with salt and pepper and brown on all sides, about 3-5 minutes total. Transfer the meat to a plate.
3. Melt 2 tablespoons of butter in the skillet. Add 2 large diced carrots, 2 diced celery, 2 cloves of garlic, 2 large, diced potatoes, 1 medium, diced onion and cook until lightly colored, about 3-4 minutes.
4. Stir in the 1/4 cup of all-purpose flour. Add 1 cup of merlot red wine and simmer, scraping up any browned bits from the bottom of the pan. Add 2 cups of beef stock, 4 fresh thyme sprigs and 1 bay leaf. Bring the ingredients to a boil. Cover and simmer over low heat until the carrots and potato are fork tender, about 7-10 minutes.
5. Finally, add fresh peas and the prime rib along with any accumulated juices, cover and simmer until the meat is heated through, about 3 minutes. Discard the bay leaf and thyme sprigs.

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Leela & Lavender A [Fashionable] Force for Good

Words by Tracy Nicholson Photography by Dan Francis You may have noticed a boom in women-centric businesses lately, specifically in the Shoppes at BLU Water Creek on 45th Street South…

Words by Tracy Nicholson

Photography by Dan Francis

You may have noticed a boom in women-centric businesses lately, specifically in the Shoppes at BLU Water Creek on 45th Street South in Fargo. Driven by a need to re-define retail and make giving back their bigger purpose, this location became a perfect launching pad for Laura Polanski and Jill Shea’s stunning boutique, Leela & Lavender. See inside their aptly-designed space which caters to women, gives back to the community and happily accommodates everyone in the family.

Celebrating their grand opening on November 9th, founders Polanski and Shea, were also celebrating the career history that brought them together and helped hone the retail experience that would be the foundation of their current dream. Prior to Leela & Lavender, Shea spent 24 years as a Senior Retail Executive at the corporate office of Vanity. Polanski had worked with her there for 12 years in the same position, and their store manager, Angie Sunde came on board after working with them for 10 years at Vanity. “Angie’s been an amazing part of this, she has a background with vast experience in sales, store management, marketing, visuals and social media. So that really combined with our backgrounds helped push us in the right direction,” said Polanski. These days, Shea and Polanski have given themselves new titles, founders of Leela & Lavender as well as Chief Style & Culture Curators.

Re-inventing Retail
“We’ve been in retail our whole lives, so this has definitely been our passion. After Vanity closed, we knew we still wanted to continue in the industry and stay in Fargo,” said Polanski. “We always felt, even when we were at Vanity, that there was something missing in the retail space and we really wanted to re-invent it. We wanted to go outside of the mall and felt there was still a need for women; a place for women to go and have fun and shop. So, that’s what kind of started all of this.”

Compared to their previous roles in fashion retail, Polanski describes it as “the same and different”. Different in the sense that they are not a mall retailer. “We are not targeting a certain demographic or age. I really feel that fashion is a taste level. It’s not an age-level anymore. All women should be able to shop together, regardless of their age and we want to provide fashion for the woman who wants a great shopping experience.”

“I really feel that fashion is a taste level. It’s not an age-level anymore.”
Laura Polanski, Co-founder of Leela & Lavender


Browsing the new store, shoppers will find gorgeous displays that interestingly mix home and office accessories with jewelry and gift items. “We just really looked at what categories of giftables would resonate with our customer’s life,” said Shea. “What is she doing and what does she need in her life? So that’s why we chose Leela Office, Leela Bar, Leela Baby, even Leela Men’s because we know she’s also buying gifts for the men in her life.”

“We really want shopping to be fun again. We talked to a lot of people and they said, I don’t shop because it’s not fun,” said Polanski. “I don’t like shopping. I hear that over and over again – I want new clothes, but I hate shopping. And so, we wanted to bring the fun back. We really shopped for the gift items that we look for and wanted the store to have a sense of humor with what we chose. We asked ourselves, what made us happy? What made us feel good? How do we give that to our customer?”

An Inviting Experience
When Shea and Polanski were creating their concept, they realized the environment was just as important as the product. “We wanted to be inviting to everyone in her life. So, our space is geared to accommodate kids by providing a toy box area for them with snacks, a bar and TV area for the men and a changing station in the bathroom for families. We just want to make sure everyone is really comfortable here,” said Shea.

“Whatever our customer is doing we wanted to embrace it and welcome that in our store.” The bar area also serves another purpose, as a space for trunk shows, personal appointments and even an open invitation to their shoppers to host private parties. Throughout the store, they offer many charging stations so their shoppers can stay connected. “We know that the mobile devices in her life are important, so we have these little signs going on all of the stations that say, “You can never be overdressed or over-charged.”

Honoring Time & Budget
Part of their concept was the theory that they needed to honor their customer’s budget and time. “Everything that we do, we ask, ‘Are we honoring her time? Are we making it easy for her? Can she dress head-to-toe for any event in her life and can we make it fast?’ We’ve had a really good response to our price-points and offer pricing in every category, moderate all the way to premium,” said Polanski. “So, if you’re a trendy college student and you’re on a limited budget, you can find great fashions here. If you have a little more disposable income or just want to invest in jeans or shoes and throw on a more moderate-priced top, you can really find all price points here.”

Style Catalysts
For those that don’t consider themselves fashion-forward or just don’t have the time to shop, Shea and Polanski offer one-on-one help from their Style Catalysts. “Our Style Catalysts will be able to outfit people from head-to-toe,” said Polanski. “We also have a style profile online where people can go, fill it out, and we can pull outfits or she can stop in and get in-and-out fast.” They will also be providing services such as Style Assessments, “Happiness in a Box” subscription services, alterations and personalized, styling appointments.


Trying on a New Concept
The dressing room area is something that their team worked extensively on. “We want women to feel comfortable in the dressing room,” said Shea. “We wanted the rooms to be spacious and be able to lay out outfitting in them and they needed to be bright. Then we had to include a little sitting area that would be comfortable for friends and family.”

“We’re just as passionate about interiors as we are with fashion,” said Polanski. “Through our travels, Jill and I have always loved both the fashion of the home and the fashion of clothing. The store’s design just came from a combination of our love of travel over the past few years. We combined our different styles together and that’s what made this.”

Partnering for a Passion
My favorite product is Kendra Scott jewelry. She is also a woman-owned business that she started herself. She based it on the pillars of fashion, family and philanthropy. I’ve always admired her and her jewelry,” said Polanski. “As far as I know, we’re the only store in Fargo that carries her line.”

“We have really tried to partner with people that also give back, so for us partnering with her is almost a double give-back,” said Shea. “A lot of the people that we’ve partnered with also give-back, so displayed signs throughout the store showing that is one way we put focus on that aspect.”

If the Shoe Fits

When Shea and Polanski were building their concept, one area they felt deserved more attention and selection, was shoes and denim. “To do this, we created the little fireplace, cozy area with the shoe destination,” said Shea. “We also felt that we could really deliver a nice denim destination with the moderate to the premium brands. Jeans are hard to shop for, it’s not something people usually look forward to. But, it’s still the foundation of everybody’s wardrobe. We worked really hard at having an assortment of sizes that can span all figures and all price-points. We also chose different shapes to accommodate different body types and make it a little bit easier on the shopper.” Leela & Lavender are also becoming known for offering special orders to ensure their clients receive the perfect sizing.

Personalized Shopping
While some new store owners may have concerns regarding online shopping and the recent bout of store closings, Shea believes that retail isn’t dying, it’s just changing. “If we can disrupt and do things differently, the customer will notice and it will be the way retail should be. Laura and I have shopped the world, to places like Asia and Europe and we’ve been able to really absorb what’s out there and really pull what we like,” said Shea. “We want everything in the store to be fun and that’s different than other retailers. It’s not all about price and making a profit for us. It’s about being passionate about what we love to do and giving that to our customers. And hopefully, they can see that. That’s why so many big retailers aren’t making it, there’s no sense of personalization anymore, why not go to Amazon instead? So, we wanted to fill that gap and provide a unique and more personalized shopping experience.”

A Force for Good
Shea and Polanski firmly believe that fashion and business can be a force for good. Both are fortunate in their own lives, but they know that not everyone has had those same opportunities. “We feel that fashion can inspire confidence in women and we really want to be that spark that just makes a woman rise-up and be her best self,” said Shea. “We want to give back and do great things for women and children to make sure they can live their best life. To do this, we decided to donate a portion of our profits to the F-M Women’s Foundation. We selected that organization because it’s an umbrella of women-based charities. It’s the Jeremiah Foundation, The Girl Scouts, Dress for Success, YWCA and many more. We also love the phrase, “Giving is Always in Style”. We put that phrase on every tag in the store. We feel like if we’re trying to be a business with a force for good, it might encourage others to live in a similar way.”

Behind the Name
When Shea and Polanski discussed a name, they went back to everything that inspired them, trying to keep it whimsical and light.”We loved the word “Leela”, it means great adventure and great discovery,” said Shea. “It can also mean “divine play” in the game of life. We kind of taglined ourselves “a style adventure” because of the experience we wanted to offer on what to wear for work and trends, or casual and comfortable. We also like the significance of lavender. It’s a classic, elegant scent that really can signify pampering or spa-like experiences. It went back to pampering our customers and helping them to be their best self. The name together really resonated with us.”

The logo was designed using two symbols with a sentimental meaning. The first is a Celtic symbol which stands for love and family and the second is a Hindu symbol that stands for happiness. “That’s really everything that this brand stands for, so we sent it off to our graphic designer friend, Christine Vangsness and asked her to make something that symbolizes our goal,” said Polanski. “She blended the two symbols together and sent us maybe 10 different examples and we bot thouhght, this is it. We love the symbol and we use it throughout our store and bag design. Everything we do, we want that logo on there so we’re always reminded to honor the customer’s time and budget, keeping family and happiness in mind.”

Leela & Lavender
Shoppes at BLU Water Creek
3265 45th St. South, Suite 116, Fargo

10 a.m. to 8 p.m. Monday – Thursday
10 a.m. to 7 p.m. Friday
10 a.m. to 6 p.m. Saturday (holiday season hours will be extended)

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