Mackenthun’s Fine Foods, Coborn’s show staying power
by Mary Margaret Stewart, staff writer
Mackenthun’s Fine Foods was founded in Waconia, Minnesota, in 1917. Today, co-owners Jaime Mackenthun and Jessa Theis, brother and sister, are fifth-generation grocers of the family’s three stores in Waconia, Lonsdale and Montgomery.
“It’s pretty exciting for our family to have been in business for this many years, and it’s rewarding that we’ve been able to grow the business,” said Mackenthun, who started as a bagger at age 14 in 1983.
“Jessa and I bought the stores in Lonsdale and Montgomery three and a half years ago now, and they’ve been successful since we’ve taken them on. It’s just fun to keep growing with the family legacy.”
Mackenthun also sits on the Minnesota Grocers Association board of directors, following in his family’s footsteps.
“My dad sat on the board prior to me for many, many years,” he said. “The Minnesota Grocers Association is just a great association. They do so much for our industry down at the Capitol every day, trying to fight for the best for the grocers and all of retail.”
The family focuses on fresh. Each store has expansive produce and deli departments, a scratch-made bakery, in-store smokehouse and Caribou Coffee café. The Waconia location also boasts a pharmacy.
“We offer a lot of signature meats…we smoke over 40 different kinds of brats. We have summer sausage, jerky – you name it,” Mackenthun said. “We make double-smoked hams for the holiday, which is a big hit for Christmas. Our meat department is a big focal point in our store.
“We have a huge deli department that features a pasta bar, salad bar, along with all your traditional deli items and sushi, as well.
“For bakery, we have very impressive doughnuts. People come from pretty far to get our doughnuts, along with our cookies.
“We used to make a lot more cakes for weddings and birthdays and stuff like that, but due to COVID, cakes have kind of turned down due to not having the big gatherings.”
As Mackenthun mentioned, the pandemic has shifted sales in different areas.
“Another thing that’s changed with the pandemic is online shopping. It’s gone from a one-person department to over 10 people who work back there – many orders, every day online,” he said.
“What’s made me the most proud is how my employees have adapted to all the changes and been able to – even through these tough, stressful times – come together. We’re still able to provide for our customers the best that we possibly can.”
Created as ‘little humble produce market’
St. Cloud, Minnesota-based Coborn’s started as a produce market in 1921. Over the last century, the Coborn family has grown the company considerably.
As VP of Marketing Dennis Host put it, Coborn’s went from that “little humble produce market” to “a large, very highly respected regional grocery chain,” operating 60 grocery stores in Minnesota, Wisconsin, North Dakota and South Dakota.
Of the 60 locations, the company operates under four banners: Coborn’s, Cash Wise Foods, Marketplace Foods and Hornbacher’s. And while it focuses on grocery, there are about 125 varying retail business units, including liquor stores, pharmacies and fuel stations.
And Host said that Coborn’s is looking forward to what’s on the horizon.
“In our pharmacies, we will be a distributor of the [COVID-19] vaccination, so we’ve got some significant work in front of us there, to educate our communities and our customers on the safety of the vaccination, and how to come into our store safely and get your vaccination,” he said. “That will be something that will be on our radar here, certainly over the next couple of months.”
The company’s centennial also will be a huge part of 2021.
“We’ve planned for the highlights of that event to happen in late April and throughout May, but we will be very proudly telling the history of our company throughout all of 2021,” Host said.
But to reach 2021, Coborn’s had to get through 2020, which Host said was all due to the people at its stores.
“Our organization is most proud, first and foremost, of our frontline employees. Those who are dealing with our customers in a very, very public way, every single day is nothing short of remarkable,” he said.
“We are so proud of our store teams, and how they have responded and stepped up to the significant challenges that this year has brought – keeping their stores open and keeping our employees safe, and most importantly, providing a safe and welcoming experience for our shoppers.”
In addition to the workers, the Minnesota Grocers Association has “long been an instrumental partner” of Coborn’s in the state.
“Certainly, the resources that they provide to us and to all independent grocers in Minnesota are just so vital in helping us stay connected to what has gone on this past year,” he said.
“We’ve relied on them considerably for their advocacy work in the state capital and with the legislature and with governor…they’ve done an outstanding job in communicating and in advocacy, during probably one of the most challenging and unprecedented times in any of our histories as independent grocery operators in the state.”