Peter Koelz, now of Siren/Webster, spent the majority of his life in Minneapolis. A visionary early in life, Peter’s first business was making religious plaques for his grandmother to sell at craft fairs. He also always loved to bake. He’d whip up pies and cakes and all kinds of other creations, tweaking recipes as he went along.
In college, while pursuing a double major in Chemistry and Biology, he worked at restaurants and started a carpentry business on the side. In addition to home remodeling projects, he manufactured bunk beds for college dorm rooms that became so popular that he mass-produced them for colleges in the tri-state area.
Peter’s drive to succeed is rooted in a firm belief to inject passion and a personal touch into everything he does.
By the time he met his wife, Jean, they had each amassed quite a bit of experience in hospitality, construction, and marketing businesses. They originally met as college students working at a restaurant together, and eventually, circumstances would steer them back—more than once—into the foodservice industry. Early in their marriage, they purchased a family pizza place in Apple Valley, Minnesota. When construction projects closed them off from the usual flow of traffic, the restaurant closed leaving Peter to think about his next venture. Jean pursued a career in advertising while Peter stayed at home with the kids, enabling him to pursue several entrepreneurial endeavors. It was during this time that Peter started baking again, specifically experimenting with homemade bread.
When Peter’s parents purchased a cabin in Siren, Peter and Jean found a neighboring piece of land to build on “someday.” That day came much sooner than expected. Within a few months, they received a generous offer on their house at the same time Jean’s company was downsizing. It seemed like time for a change. Jean was able to work part-time while Peter began clearing the new land to construct a house.
Just as Peter was rolling up his sleeves to get started in 2001, the tornado hit the Siren area and changed everything. Like so many others, Peter left what he was doing, grabbed his chainsaw, and just started helping other people clear their land of the fallen trees and debris. It was a strange way to get to know his neighbors, but it was a great way to become part of a new community.
The tornado set their timeline back, and then Jean got laid off. With all their money spent on building supplies for the new home, the couple was broke, unemployed, and had no job prospects locally. Then a family at church asked Peter to remodel their basement. It was an answer to prayer and soon led to all kinds of other construction work.
In the meantime, Jean got a job at the kitchen store in Siren, which led to pursuing a partnership with the owners of The Chattering Squirrel coffee shop. Peter was convinced that adding a broader food menu was the way to grow the business, and it all started with a panini grill. He honed his bread making skills in part to save money, but mostly for the sake of better tasting sandwiches. It was during this time that Jean built a catering business in response to all the requests that came in through the coffee shop but were not part of the business model at the time. It was during a busy weekend that included multiple, simultaneous catering jobs at the nearby hotel that a friend walked into the hot, chaotic kitchen and exclaimed, “It’s a nuthouse in here!”
Nuthouse Catering was born.
The coffee shop partnership ended, but not long afterward Peter and Jean were unexpectedly offered a new opportunity to open a deli at the north end of Siren, which they called Nuthouse Deli. They focused on lunches and dinners, and Peter was once again baking a variety of homemade breads for the unique sandwich and Panini offerings.
The trouble was that most people who came in for a sandwich wanted a loaf of his bread to take home. After a few years, other restaurants approached Peter for advice on how to develop their sandwich menus and asked if he would ever consider providing bread on a wholesale basis. An invitation to join the Siren farmers’ market introduced Nuthouse Breads to a whole new audience, and the bread sales started to take off. Running the restaurant by day and baking bread all night was exhausting, and the reality was that bread sales were outpacing the restaurant sales and the restaurant carried an unsustainable level of overhead costs. As it turned out, their landlord wanted the space back for another business venture anyway; so Peter and Jean had to let go of the deli and pursue the bread business full-time.
It’s been five years since the entire family (along with the help of a few employees) began producing artisan bread and, more recently, granola blends in the commercial kitchen they built onto their home.
The 20-gallon mixers and eight ovens run every day, all day, and Peter estimates that in the summer, they hand shape and bake an average of 1500 loaves per week. Winter sales slow to slightly over half that amount.
Part of the successful sales record is the sheer variety of products offered. With over 40 flavors, there is a bread for every taste and purpose. Breakfast breads include apple spice, blueberry, brown sugar maple, cherry-berry, chai, cinnamon raisin, cinnamon vanilla, cranberry walnut, cranberry wild rice, Dutch apple, mixed berry, orange almond, orange cranberry mango, plum oat, and razz-berry.
Sandwich breads include honey oat, honey wheat, multi-grain, peasant, pumpernickel, spelt, raisin rye, sweet rye, white, and wild rice.
It’s especially fun for Peter to experiment with different herb blends and flavor combinations with the savory breads, which include bacon cheddar onion, baker’s blend, garlic basil, Italian herb, jalapeño, lavender-rosemary, onion dill, rosemary garlic, and Tuscan herb.
There are seasonal specialties too, and Peter also makes a line of quick breads. The most popular quick bread is the family’s secret-recipe pumpkin bread—a tradition that spans multiple generations. Despite intentions to offer it as a winter holiday bread, customers request it throughout the summer.
The other contributor to their success is the company’s high standard of quality. The recipes are kept simple, with no preservatives—ever. Whenever possible, Nuthouse uses all-natural, organic, locally-sourced ingredients. For example, Nuthouse uses Emerson’s Maple Hill Sugar Bush syrup and Otto Honey, both from Spooner, in the bread and granola recipes.
Nuthouse products can be found in area grocery stores like Schmitz’s Economart, Wayne’s Foods, Coborn’s Marketplace, Dick’s Foods, and the Burnett Dairy. Additionally, you have the opportunity to sample products at area farmers’ markets such as the Spooner Farmers’ market held each Saturday on Hwy. 63 just south of the stoplight and the Hayward Flea Market every Monday between Memorial and Labor Day.
If you decide you like it, take my advice and buy it when you can find it. Given regular customers’ tendency to stock up and buy as much as 10 loaves at a time because it freezes so well, the bread has a tendency to disappear quickly. Special orders can be made through the stores listed above or by sending an e-mail to firstname.lastname@example.org.
About the Author: Diane Dryden is a features writer for DrydenWire.com. She started her fifteen-year career as a features writer for the Washburn County Register and has written for assorted newspapers and national magazines. She has also just released the third novel in her Chicago series of books – Scott Free in Chinatown. You can visit Diane's website at www.dianedryden.com or her facebook page at facebook.com/authordianedryden.