CANNON FALLS - When David Olson went up north to go camping, the last thing he expected to find was an artisan deli.
Yet there it was, in the middle of nowhere, defying the odds: Burnett Dairy Cooperative. A high-end shopping oasis full of rare cheeses, fresh sandwiches, wine and more.
Olson figured that if Grantsburg, Wis., could pull it off, so could Cannon Falls, Minn. And so, after many years of owning Avalon Express Trucking, Olson has taken on a new business venture as a labor of love and opened Artisan Plaza near downtown Cannon Falls.
So far, the local response has been exuberant, and the new team has been doing its best to manage crowds since opening day July 3. People keep coming back for more, and Kamerud said that's a sign this area is ready and excited to have a place like this between Rochester and the Twin Cities, just off Highway 52.
"Every single night we've filled our patio and filled our restaurant. It's a lot of fun to see people get excited about a new space in Cannon Falls," general manager Chad Kamerud said.
Artisan Plaza features a rare dining and shopping experience where you'll find the makings of a sophisticated cheese and charcuterie plate, fried cheese curds, regional beers and wine, wood-fired pizza, hard-scooped ice cream and fresh meat and seafood. So far, wood-fired pizza on the patio with live music has been the biggest hit. But Kamerud said you're welcome to grab a glass of beer or wine and go shopping inside the store as well.
"The combination of what we have almost defies description," Kamerud said. "We hit that sweet spot of carrying a little bit of everything and most things you might never have tried like kombucha, nitro coffee, five-year aged Gouda ... I know we have something that you like and we deliver it with a smile."
Artisan Plaza is hoping to make itself a destination for the region, and even pull customers from the south suburbs, who might find it easier to drive to Cannon Falls for fresh jams and produce and spend a nice afternoon exploring the vineyard, brewery, downtown shops and waterfront rather than go to a metro area and struggle with big crowds and parking.
"We have an unparalleled selection of products from the region, the state, the country world," Kamerud said. "We're also evolving as we go, so we'd love to hear feedback on what type of steak or seafood people are looking for and we'll find some way to bring it in, keeping things as local and fresh as possible."
Artisan Plaza is open daily from 10 a.m. to 8 p.m. at 1223 S. Fourth St., Cannon Falls. Find the plaza online at https://www.artisanplaza.com/.