Finniman, Teri. "Cookin' Kuchen." Forum, 20 June 2007.
Grandma’s Kuchen owner Lois Vander Wal mixes rhubarb for kuchen, a German dessert. Vander Wal’s business is the only one in Westfield. Photos by Teri Finneman / The Forum
In the middle of this deserted town, a Dutch woman is hard at work
making thousands of German desserts.
Off the beaten path in south-central North Dakota, Lois Vander Wal and a few assistants spend their days making kuchen after kuchen in this unincorporated city with a handful of residents.
A small house with a simple “Grandma’s Kuchen” sign serves as headquarters for the business, the only one in the entire town.
But while Westfield may be “blink and you miss it,” Vander Wal is amazed at how the business has taken off since buying it last fall.
“Where this has gone, never in my wildest dream would I have thought,” said Vander Wal, who recently began selling kuchen to Hornbacher’s in Fargo-Moorhead.
Vander Wal became interested in the kuchen business two years ago after hearing it was for sale.
The business originally started in South Dakota, where kuchen is the state dessert. She had traveled through the area for a number of years and sampled the kuchen before.
After working a variety of jobs over the years, she decided to buy the kuchen business in September.
“I thought about it and said, ‘Hey, this is going to
be exciting. This is going to be a
challenge,’ ” she said. “We owned the farm, but I’ve always wanted to own something.”
Living three miles from her native Westfield, Vander Wal also wanted to provide employment in the tiny city.
She and her husband, Tom, still owned their first home and decided to turn it into a production center.
They began making kuchen in October.
Grandma’s Kuchen employee Tiffany Int Veldt separates dough that will be used to make kuchen crusts. Photo by Teri Finneman / The Forum
"We found out that a Dutchman can make a German dessert,” she joked.
Vander Wal inherited the business’s client base, which made starting a new career easier.
The first time she tried baking, she and her sister made 40 kuchens in 11 hours. Now the business can make 200 in a day.
In May, Grandma’s Kuchen sold more than 2,000 kuchens. With help from her husband and two workers, Vander Wal has grown her client base to include more grocery stores and gas stations.
Hornbacher’s in Fargo and Moorhead offers Grandma’s Kuchen in its stores in the frozen foods section, said President Dean Hornbacher.
“I’ve sampled it, and it’s excellent. I think we’ve gotten pretty good comments from consumers on them,” he said. “We’ve always kind of been partial to promoting local products.”
While there are other kuchen makers in North Dakota, Vander Wal said hers is unique because she’s generous with size and the amount of filling. Each dessert weighs more than a pound.
The cost of a Grandma’s Kuchen varies by the store, Vander Wal said, but typically ranges from $5.35 to $6.50.
Strawberry rhubarb kuchen is most popular, followed by peach, prune,
cherry and blueberry.
Vander Wal typically works 7 a.m. to 8 p.m. Monday through Thursday. On Fridays, she delivers kuchen outside of the area.
“I wanted something to do in my retirement. I didn’t realize I’d have to work 18 hours a day at it,” she said with a laugh.
Still, she hopes to continue expanding her venture and has considered turning the business into a franchise.
“I don’t think we’re done growing yet,” she said.
Kuchen is a dessert with a bread crust, a custard and “whatever fruit filling is your favorite,” Vander Wal said. She makes 13 different kinds. The example shown is a sugar kuchen.
Each day, Vander Wal looks at her orders to decide what kind of kuchen to make and what fruit filling she needs.
The first step is mixing the dough for the crust to let it rise before it is cut into balls. The dough balls are later rolled out to make individual crusts.
The custard filling and fruit are prepared and poured into each crust. With three ovens, Grandma’s Kuchen can bake 18 of the desserts at a time.
Once cooled, the kuchens are packaged, labeled and placed in one of eight freezers. No item stored is ever more than one week old.
“You might say this is probably one of the rare, totally handmade products on the market,” Vander Wal said.
- Grandma’s Kuchen
- Location: Westfield, N.D.
- Ownership: Lois Vander Wal
- Information: (701) 336-7867
By the numbers
During a busy production week, Grandma’s Kuchen went through
- 40 dozen eggs
- 400 pounds of flour
- 300 pounds of sugar
- 60 gallons of cream
Readers can reach Forum reporter Teri Finneman at (701) 241-5560
Reprinted with permission of The Forum, Fargo, North Dakota.