Pilgrim Lutheran Church unveiled its new commercial kitchen in mid-September. Its first tenant, Shane Dickey of Superior Small Batch, began making vegan burgers and sausage in the space Monday, Nov. 5.
"I can already tell that we have one huge complaint for Shane," Pastor Will Mowchan said. "When he's cooking, it smells so good down here it drives us crazy."
The small business made the move from the Clair Nelson Community Center kitchen in Finland, Minnesota, to the Superior church last week. The first Superior-made batches were pulled from the oven Monday.
"When we started our business, we were living in Brimson, so not far from Finland," Dickey said. "But then we relocated to Duluth and had been looking for a spot really ever since we moved here."
The Superior church is much closer to home for Dickey and his wife, Gail Francis, who co-own the business.
"It went from 72 miles to 5.7 miles," Dickey said of the drive to work.
And the kitchens were very comparable.
"It's a little bit bigger and you have a little bit more equipment," Dickey told Mowchan.
Superior Small Batch produces the Heartyburger, which comes in quarter-pound patties, and a sausage analog called Brimson Bangers.
"We work hard to give our food a real depth of flavor that you don't find with most supermarket veggie burgers," Dickey said. "Our burgers are special and we make them all ourselves. We work hard to make sure we use whole ingredients and we want to procure locally whenever we can."
Superior Small Batch is sold at Whole Foods Co-Op as well as a number of Super One Foods stores in Duluth. The Heartyburger is on the menu at Tavern on the Hill and St. Mary's Hospital employee cafeteria; Beaners Coffee House uses Brimson Banger sausage in its vegan dishes.
Superior Small Batch items can be found at food co-ops in Ashland, Luck, the Twin Cities and Ironwood, Michigan. Mowchan tried a Heartyburger at St. Mary's Hospital cafeteria and has since bought some for home cooking.
"They're delicious," Mowchan said. "When you think of vegan food, you think maybe, maybe not. Wow. Try some of his stuff. You won't think maybe not, you'll think yeah, this is for sure."
Starting this week, Dickey said Superior Small Batch products will be available at Harbor View Super One in Superior.
The lack of available vegan prepared food and the growing market for it prompted Dickey and Francis to create Superior Small Batch, starting with two retooled home recipes.
"We believe in the positive ecological impact of what we're doing," Dickey said, and part of their mission is to bring their vegan fare to people who aren't in the traditional veggie burger crowd.
"Our food is not vegan food," Dickey said. "It's just good food.We're in the business of making good food and we want people to consider it.
"We don't like to think of ourselves as fake anything," Dickey said. "We're not pretend meat. We're not fake anything. We're the opposite. We're real food."
A gift for all
Congregation member Ken Grant's love of church dinners led to the remodeling of Pilgrim Lutheran's 1950s-era kitchen this summer. He donated $215,000 for the project, designed by congregation member Dale Johnson. The remodel included new bathrooms with showers, a new hallway and new equipment. It's a day and night difference, Mowchan said.
"Before it was small, rather dark, cramped. There were a lot of unusable equipment pieces," the pastor said. "We doubled the oven space, we greatly increased the griddle space. It's just a fully-equipped commercial kitchen now that lets us cook for up to 150-200 people."
The kitchen reopened with a church dinner featuring some of Grant's favorite foods, including meatballs and pickled herring.
Inviting Superior Small Batch to use the space was a logical step for the church.
"Part of our changing world is that churches have to do more things outside their walls," Mowchan said. "We can't just expect people to just come and show up and things keep rolling along like they did 30 years ago."
The congregation has made a purposeful effort to do more things outside church walls, such as mission trips and partnering with Western Lake Superior Habitat for Humanity, which houses its regional office at Pilgrim. The church also seeks to invite the community in for education, book clubs, exercise classes and more.
"More of the community is in Pilgrim and more of Pilgrim is out in the community, which makes for a wonderful mix," Mowchan said.
Renting out the kitchen space, whether to small business or individuals seeking a spot for a family gathering, helps integrate with the community and pay the rent at the same time.
More gets done working together than working independently, Mowchan said.
"Shane is about feeding people good food; Habitat is about providing houses for people; we're about people's well-being," the pastor said. "Put those three things together and you really have something."
He expressed sincere thanks to Grant for the gift.
"We're really lucky and we know it. We're really grateful to Ken and Dale. We're just plain grateful," Mowchan said. "I think this will open up things to us that no one has even foreseen yet."