OLSBURG, Kan. (AP) — The holidays are fast approaching, and that's good news for Erin Gutsch, proprietor of the Farmhouse cafe and grocery store in this Pottawatomie County hamlet of 219 people.
Last year marked another successful holiday season for the business, known then as Loberg Grocery. The name was changed to the Farmhouse in March and it remains one of only a handful of shops in town.
The cafe attracts people from more than 150 miles away each Christmas season, as it specializes in homemade, hard-to-find traditional Swedish holiday delicacies that have stood the test of time.
"I made 600 pounds of potato sausage last year," Gutsch said when we spoke last December. "That's a record."
For the uninitiated, potato sausage — or potatis korv in Swedish — is a big-seller around Christmas time. Swedes traditionally serve it with other special food items such as lutefisk and pickled herring on Christmas Eve night.
Potato sausage is hard to come by, which is why people drive to Olsburg from as far away as the Kansas City area, Wichita, Topeka and Nebraska to get it.
The trips can take two to three hours each way, but those who come insist it is worth every mile.
"The potato sausage recipe has been passed down from store owner to store owner," Gutsch said, referring to the proprietors who formerly set up shop in the building that now houses the Farmhouse. "People tell me it's the best they've ever had."
Those traveling to Olsburg from Topeka can make the 71-mile trip in about 1 hour and 15 minutes.
Gutsch is hardly your run-of-the-mill small-business owner. At age 32, and the married mother of three children — ages 12, 9 and 7 — she has been running the business for the past four years.
The Loberg Grocery store, on the main drag in Olsburg, was a staple in the largely Swedish community until it closed in early 2013. Gutsch — who was born and raised in Olsburg — would feel a tug to open it back up whenever she passed by.
It was her father, Tom Nelson, who encouraged her to pursue her dreams and reopen the grocery store, even though she had never run a business before. She opened the store in June 2013.
Yes, it was a bit of a gamble, she admits. But the store has remained open, thanks in large part to her hard work and ingenuity.
Gutsch said she took out a lot of the shelves that used to hold grocery items, reasoning that "90 percent of the people who live here" drive about 25 miles south to Manhattan almost every day, for work or shopping. Why try to compete with big stores where people get most of their food items?
"I turned this into more of a store with convenience items," Gutsch said. "Things people might need, but forgot to pick up — like a can of soup or a bag of sugar."
Gutsch filled in the space left empty by the removal of the shelves with tables and chairs, which she says are packed for lunch, dinner and breakfast.
"I would never have thought the restaurant would take off like it has," Gutsch said. "That was a big surprise for me."
Gutsch also finds herself as an in-demand caterer: Weddings, family gatherings and holiday parties keep her busy throughout much of the year. She says she can make just about anything the catering party wants, which typically are barbecue items like pulled pork or beef brisket. With all the trimmings, of course.
For the most part, Gutsch is a one-woman band — the sole employee of the establishment. But when things get busy, she will call in reinforcements, usually friends like Hannah Ridder, who will drop what they are doing to lend a hand.
And if things get really busy, don't be surprised to see customers roll up their sleeves and help.
Being a small business on a razor-thin budget leaves virtually no money for advertising. Yet people are finding their way to the Farmhouse, thanks to word of mouth and Facebook, which itself drives a fair amount of traffic to the store — and to Olsburg.
Gutsch also is a vital contributor to Olsburg's Swedish dinner, held the first Saturday night of December each year at the town's McCormick Elementary School in Olsburg.
The dinner, which features recipes that have been handed down for generations, is sponsored by the Olsburg Lutheran Church, which Gutsch attends. The dinner is limited to 350 people and sells out every year.
Gutsch takes reservations for the dinner when she isn't flipping hamburgers or making homemade french fries at lunchtime.
Information from: The Topeka (Kan.) Capital-Journal, http://www.cjonline.com