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Forage

When business partners Kristen Dexter and Michelle Thiede bought Forage in 2017 they were able to combine their passions for food and community development. With Michelle’s 25 years of experience in the restaurant industry and Kristen’s deep connections in the Chippewa Valley, together they have made for an effective ownership and now management team of Forage. 

Forage is a commercial kitchen, event space, and business incubator for food-based businesses. Additionally, Kristen and Michelle are excited to be expanding Forage’s offerings to include a pop-up shop that will address a need they noticed among their clientele, to have a space to sell and market products. The pop-up will afford people the opportunity to test drive their business ideas before having to commit to a consistent space.

Western Dairyland has been a useful resource for the co-owners, helping them focus and finance their business efforts, and showing them how to connect with people who could benefit from their space. Kristen remarked on the difficulties of taking on an already existing business, mentioning, “Western Dairyland was really vital in helping us move in the direction we needed to go. They had the clear head and the years of experience.” The Business Development Specialists at Western Dairyland helped explain the niche Forage provides for, noting the volume of requests they get from clients wanting to start food-based businesses, but who don’t have the space to try it out. This helped Kristen and Michelle feel sure that their co-marketing pop-up would be a lucrative endeavor not only revenue-wise, but also as a resource for new business startups.

In terms of financials, Western Dairyland encouraged Kristen and Michelle to seek financing, showing them that they would be able to pay back money borrowed in a timespan they felt comfortable with. This gave them more confidence in financing something that would appeal to clients. Additionally, the Business Development Specialists were instrumental in fostering a connection with another woman from the restaurant industry with accounting experience, who has made them feel comfortable that their business is something they can make a living at.

Building community, making connections, and fostering understanding is at the heart of Forage's mission. They have donated their space for fundraisers with many community partners including the Hmong Mutual Association, Midwest Feminists, Family Support Center, and Aids Resource Center Wisconsin. As well, Forage continues its relationship with area schools, renewing a partnership with the Longfellow program to teach kids about healthy snacking. Kristen notes that the education aspect is important to them, further mentioning that they have held events with the University of Wisconsin at Eau Claire, specifically with Blugold Beginnings, where first generation college students have been able to connect with people in the business community.

While Kristen and Michelle have only been running the business for a year, they are already making connections that they hope will pay off in the future. Furthermore, they have created short and long-term business plans with the help of a connection fostered by Western Dairyland, and Kristen remarked, “Western Dairyland has been instrumental in helping us know how to plan and project.”

Going forward, their hope for Forage is to have a steady stream of people ready to move in who want to start food-based businesses, and also to have the pop-up shop consistently busy. Another expansion they hope to foster in their space in the future is a grab-and-go food business, which will hopefully allow more community members to connect with Forage, and which would be staffed by members of Forage’s incubator community. Alongside all these expansions, the co-owners hope to keep more records of what businesses benefit from using Forage’s resources. Ultimately, Kristen emphasizes that while they enjoy the many different aspects of Forage, from being an event space to a community kitchen, they mostly want to focus on growing their niche of food-based business incubation.

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