Mandel’s festive “Dronning” kransekake a big hit
Making connections and building business
LORI ANN REINHALL
The Norwegian American
When placing an ad in The Norwegian American, you never know exactly what the response will be. If you are a business owner, you hope to reach new customers. With a targeted audience of Norwegian Americans, this works very well for most Nordic vendors. But in the case of Maggie Øyen and Mandel, there were a few unexpected bonuses that came along her way.
The idea for Mandel—literally “Almond”—makers of authentic Norwegian kransekake came about during the pandemic, when the Øyen-Ustad family—mother, father, and daughter—in Rhinebeck, N.Y., found themselves in quarantine, looking for a fun and productive way to pass the time. Proud of their Norwegian heritage, their thoughts turned to kransekake (see “Mandel: Keeping traditions alive” by Laila Simon, The Norwegian American, Nov. 19, 2021).
Working for months to perfect their product, they were ready to launch in 2021. Advertising with The Norwegian American, North America’s oldest and only Norwegian newspaper, seemed like a logical decision, and it yielded results. Mandel Cake was taking off.
One of the perks of working as editor-in-chief of The Norwegian American is that I meet a lot of interesting people and gain access to many new products that I love. That is what happened with Maggie and Mandel. So, when Norway House was getting ready for their groundbreaking ceremony last September, I got in touch with Maggie and asked her if she would like to send out a few cakes for the big celebration. It seemed like a good way to get some exposure in the Midwest market. It turned out to be a good idea.
And as is often the case, one good thing can lead to another. Maggie not only became a reader of The Norwegian American, but she also signed up to be a member of Norway House. She became intrigued with the Business Accelerator Resource Network (BARN) program there, and decided to put in an application for Mandel.
While BARN was originally intended for Norwegian-based businesses wanting to enter the U.S. market, Mandel technically didn’t qualify for the program. But after a Zoom interview with Britt Arkadani, director of BARN at Norway House, they all decided to move forth. After all, Mandel’s ties to Norway were very close. Ola was born and raised in Norway, and Maggie grew up in a Norwegian-American family. The product, genuine traditional kransekake, was quintessentially Norwegian.
Maggie and Ola have worked with their BARN mentor, Ted Risdall of the Risdall Marketing Group in Roseville, Minn., on setting goals for the growth of their company. There are many challenges, as orders continue to stream in, and the family finds itself constantly in the throes of production. There are many hats to wear in this family operation, as the business continues to grow. Currently, Mandel is renting space in a commercial kitchen, but one of the goals is to eventually own their own baking premises.
Weddings are a big part of Mandel’s business, and with pandemic restrictions lifted, orders continue to increase. Over time, Maggie and family saw a high demand for a larger kransekake, and on Aug. 20, 2022, Mandel launched the 36-ring “Dronning,” the “Queen” kransekake. Perfectly formed and beautifully decorated by hand, it has been a big hit among bridal couples and others. While an 18-ring kransekake will feed about 100 people with about 2-inch bites, the “Dronning” serves about 225 with the same size portions.
In September, before it was made known publicly that Queen Sonja would be coming to Norway House, Britt from BARN reached out to Maggie and asked her if she would like to make a kransekake for the royal visit and participate in the vendor exhibition. Even though it was a very busy time of the year at Mandel, Maggie decided to take a break and fly out from New York to Minneapolis. She arrived the morning of the event at 8:07 a.m. to set up her booth, bringing along a “Dronning” to put on display for the queen and the other guests.
Fortunately, Maggie had some help that day. Ola’s second cousin Marit Andol Kringstad and her husband, Orlyn Kringstad, from Tower, Minn., were on hand to assist. Maggie had known Marit and her sister, Shirley, from earlier family trips to Norway, but had not been in touch with them in the United States. When she read a story about Marit’s dad, Leif Andol, in The Norwegian American (“For Leif Andol, Ski for Light is part of who he is” by Lori Ann Reinhall, Feb. 18. 2022), the two were able to reconnect. For me, stories like this are another one of the wonderful things about being editor of this newspaper.
The 1,300 bite-sized samples that Maggie brought along with her to Norway House went like hotcakes, and everything was gone before she put herself in a cab at 12:30 p.m. to take her to the airport. Maggie had 62 kransekaker to make before the weekend was over. Fortunately, cousin Marit was able to continue staffing the booth at Norway House.
If you haven’t yet tried kransekake from Mandel, I can assure you that it is the real deal. You can check out their website at mandelcake.com. All the Mandel products, including the impressive “Dronning,” can be shipped to your doorstep via United Parcel Service.
But don’t wait too long to put in your holiday order. Maggie and family will soon reach production capacity for the season. This custom-baked Scandinavian almond confection of perfection is simply too good to last.
Photos courtesy of Maggie Øyen
This article originally appeared in the November 4, 2022, issue of The Norwegian American. To subscribe, visit SUBSCRIBE.