100 years of Ingebretsen’s
Celebrating a Minneapolis community cornerstone
St. Paul, Minn.
Businesses that held on through COVID isolation, political unrest, and the fight for equal and higher wages for all deserve a gold medal. As 2020 is fading into the past, approaching two years from now, the effects of that year and the economic depression that followed are still being discovered. The year 2020 made the world question, in what feels like a random landscape: what is the main characteristic of a successful business? Is it ambition and drive? Filling a niche in the market? A dedicated customer base?
Scandinavian stores in the United States are disappearing. The shop fronts that once stood in almost every neighborhood in the Twin Cities and their surrounding areas are shuttered, save for the American Swedish Institute, two locations of Swedish company, Scandinavian North, and locally famous Ingebretsen’s Nordic Marketplace, with a second outlet store, Also Ingebretsen’s, at Norway House.
This year, 2021, Ingebretsen’s is celebrating 100 years on Lake Street in South Minneapolis. The road hasn’t been easy for this fourth-generation, small family business but they are continuing to grow each year. Julie Ingebretsen, co-owner and manager of the gift store since 1974, said, “I just learned how to do it, trial and error. A lot of error.”
Trial and error have led to great success, as Ingebretsen’s is now one of the main sellers of Nordic goods in the country. The business began as the modest sized Model Meat Market opened by Karl (Charlie) Ingebretsen in 1921. Charlie owned several other meat and grocery stores in Minneapolis, after immigrating from Norway in the early 20th century. The Model Meat Market’s location on Lake Street was in the heart of a Scandinavian and Scandinavian-American collection of residents, businesses, and recreation centers. Charlie met Ellen Foss, a fellow Norwegian immigrant, at Dania Hall, one of the best places to dance, and later they married.
Charlie and Ellen’s son, Charles (Bud), was born in 1921, so he and the store “shared” the same birthday. After working in the shop as a teenager and helping on weekends, Bud eventually took over the meat market. In the 1960s, Bud took on another partner, Warren Dahl. Warren came from a more Swedish background and introduced several of the traditional recipes still in use today, namely the Swedish meatball mix and the Swedish sausage. The Dahl family continues to run the Butcher Shop & Deli, still in the same building as when it opened, the original piece of Ingebretsen’s Nordic Marketplace.
In 1974, a gift shop was added to what was then known as “Ingebretsen’s Meats.” Bud and Warren recruited Julie to run this new addition, as she was between jobs at the time and looking for something to do. Having no idea that she would stay for the next 47 years, she agreed. When asked about what makes Ingebretsen’s different from other Scandinavian stores, Julie answered that the food piece, “food at the heart of it all,” was a major factor. “There aren’t many other places that have the breadth of what we have. There are other delis and other gift shops but not many that combine them,” she said. Julie added that starting in the ’90s, customers began to comment on how glad they were that the store stayed on Lake Street through many years of change.
Thinking about what makes the business successful, it’s clear that the family and staff attribute everything to the loyal customers who come again
and again to shop at the Butcher Shop & Deli and the gift store. Ingebretsen’s certainly would not have survived 2020 without their support. Similar to the rest of the world, the store closed in March in response to the COVID-19 pandemic and was prepared to reopen in early June. Before that happened, George Floyd was killed on the corner of Chicago Avenue and 38th Street, in the Powderhorn neighborhood, on May 25th. Floyd’s death inspired protests across the country in response to systemic racism in America, and the uprising in Minneapolis began over several nights immediately following.
Lake Street businesses were hit hard. Dozens of storefronts were broken into through street-facing windows. The Ingebretsen family found out what was happening through local news but could only watch the theft on the building’s cameras and wait through the long night until morning. The reality that this was happening on Lake Street, home to primarily small immigrant-owned businesses, was hard for many to accept.
Julie Ingebretsen said, “In that moment, my first thought was why us? I wasn’t connecting to the racial justice piece of it. It took me a couple of days to get tuned into that. My friend Ruhel Islam who owns [the Indian restaurant] Ghandi Mahal, which was burned to the ground, gave a statement that night that his restaurant was burning. He said, ‘Let my building burn. This needs to happen; some things need to change.’ And I thought, ‘Woah!’ It took me a while to let that sink in, what he was really saying. I understand it better now.”
National media coverage showed the streets of Powderhorn, where buildings were destroyed and some burned to the ground. Customers and friends of Ingebretsen’s were quick to send support. Julie recalled all of the checks she received in the mail that summer, which were redistributed to the Lake Street Fund. She couldn’t keep up with all of the thank yous. Members of the family and staff came to help clean up the damage at the store the following morning. “The thing about that next day that I will absolutely never forget was how many people came out onto that street that day, just to come and help. People would come and come and come and say, ‘Can I do something?’ We’d say, ‘Not here but go there,’ it was so amazing,” Julie said.
Ingebretsen’s has formed a community, not only as a store, but as a place where Nordic culture is celebrated and preserved. Generations of Minnesotans have stood in line in subzero temperatures to buy their Christmas meats, lefse, lutefisk, and more specialties at Ingebretsen’s. It is an important and unique place that honors the immigrant experience and Julie and her daughter Anna Bloomstrand work tirelessly to advocate for Lake Street and the businesses there.
When asked what her favorite part about the job is, Julie said, “The feeling of creating something. It took me a long time to figure that out. That’s what I was doing. That was my art basically. That it was a thing that I was making. But now it’s true. I’m not a very outgoing person but [I was] just learning how to be with people and feel useful. Like we together were making something that was a good thing in the world.”
The staff of Ingebretsen’s is the main ingredient of the store’s welcoming and warm atmosphere. Julie describes it this way, “They are more than employees; they’ve become my friends.” Julie is not the only Ingebretsen involved in the business. Her sister Molly manages the website and annual catalog production, and their brother Jim pitches in when needed and advises on the financial side of things. Jim’s wife, Debbie, managed the mail-order department for years and still helps out throughout the year. Julie’s daughter Anna and nephew Gus Ingebretsen are training to take over the business.
They all want to see the legacy continue on for generations to come. Join me in saying, “Happy 100-year anniversary!” to Ingebretsen’s Nordic Marketplace, and cheers to 100 more. You can read more about the store and find their incredible online offerings at ingebretsens.com (and yes, they ship lefse).
This article originally appeared in the Oct. 8, 2021, issue of The Norwegian American. To subscribe, visit SUBSCRIBE or call us at (206) 784-4617.