RUSHFORD, Minn. -- There are few sins as hideous as forgetting the Christmas lefse. For those like me who don’t have time (or the skill) to make the potato-based classic at home, there’s Norsland Lefse.
Opening in 1983, Norsland specializes in one thing: lefse. From whole potatoes to a packaged, ready to ship product, Norsland does it all in its Rushford factory.
Owner Mark Johnson took the time to sit down with me over a cup of coffee in Norsland’s bakery/cafe in the middle of the busy season: the week before Christmas.
For Johnson, like many with Scandinavian roots, lefse played a key part of his holidays.
“Growing up it was just a tradition, a treat that you always saw around special occasions, especially the holidays and that’s what made it special,” Johnson explained.
Because of the association of lefse with the holiday season, Johnson receives the majority of his business during the final months of the calendar year:
“Our business is year round in the aspect that we’re open and we do sell and have things but yet, my math might not be perfect, but about three quarters of our business is done in a quarter of the year.”
Johnson later elaborated, “September, October, November, December, full steam ahead can’t make enough.”
During these four months Norsland goes through about 1,000 pounds of potatoes each day. This means that over the course of December , the company will clean, peel, cook and rice about 10 tons of potatoes, making roughly 50,000 rounds of lefse. Even with enough lefse to feed a large army of hungry Scandinavians, there are always people asking Johnson for more.
When Johnson took over the company in 1997, the majority of buyers were distributors, grocery stores and organizations like churches that bought lefse for events. This was just as mail-orders began to grow as the internet became more accessible. Today things are a little different:
“We are selling directly to the customer more. How are we doing that? The internet. Mail order. That’s what’s grown. That’s how people shop. That’s how people find things.”
Norsland Lefse has received orders from across the country and has delivered to all 50 states.
Johnson works to walk the thin margin between keeping his product fresh and maintaining its affordability.
“It is a perishable item. Once it’s made the clock is ticking,” he explained.
So, the rounds are boxed and shipped the day that they are made to ensure they are fresh when delivered, even if the final destination is Alaska or Hawaii.
While two days is the average time that it takes for a Norland package to arrive, Johnson has received requests to “overnight” a package. He recalls getting orders Christmas Eve or the day before saying that the person had forgotten to make lefse and their grandparents were coming . The traditional food was so important to them they spent $100 for shipping.
“And they’re tickled-pink to have it,” Johnson said with a laugh.
Norsland sees bumps in lefse orders around Easter and Syttende Mai, Norway’s Constitution Day on May 17, but those don’t compare to the Christmas rush.
After being in the lefse business for 22 years Johnson is used to its demands and the chaos that comes with the job.
“It’s the week before Christmas, you got to rock and roll. It’s just the way it is.”