Twin Cities Startup Week: 3 Brands Making an Impact at a Small Scale [VIDEO]


17 October 2019


Foley Schmidt (CEO, Penny's Coffee), Amy Abt (Founder, Ma Jolie Marche), Stine Aasland (Founder, Nordic Waffles), Joe Montgomery (Panel Moderator and Account Director at STAR)

We were excited to participate for a second year in Twin Cities Startup Week. Minnesota's weeklong startup week event is the 2nd biggest in the country, and there’s nothing better than bringing eager, inspirational people together in the startup space. This year, our topic covered brands making an impact in small spaces. Whether through surprise and delight, cultural food impact, or valued customer experience - there are many ways to activate brands in a memorable way. The goal of our event was to showcase how some very special local brands were showing up through design/branding innovation, customer experience, and execution.

Joe Montgomery, Account Director here at STAR, moderated the panel. Penny’s Coffee provided (really tasty) coffee. And the event felt like a perfect ending to a very busy and insightful week of "start up" education. Dig into the panelist quotes and insights below.

Panel guests:

Stine Aasland - the Owner and Founder of the Minnesota State fair famous food, Nordic Waffles.Name: Stine Aasland

Company: Founder, Nordic Waffles


Instagram: @nordicwaffles

About Stine: Stine has been known as “Norway’s Waffle Queen” and rightfully so. As the founder of Nordic Waffles, Aasland has created a true, local waffle empire. Her genuine resilience and passion to tell the story of her heritage through food has given her a unique edge in the space.


Foley Schmidt - CEO of Minneapolis based coffee shop Penny's Coffee.Name: Foley Schmidt

Company: CEO, Penny’s Coffee


Instagram: @pennyscoffee_

About Foley: Foley is the President and CEO of Penny’s Coffee, an artisan coffee shop in the Twin Cities. As an experienced entrepreneur in the restaurant industry (previous Director of Marketing for Famous Dave’s), he knows the ins and outs of creating a valuable and unique customer experience.


Amy Abt - the Owner and Founder of the traveling flower truck Ma Jolie MarcheName: Amy Abt

Company: Founder, Ma Jolie Marche


Instagram: @majoliemarket

About Amy: Amy is the founder of Revel PR and mobile market, Ma Jolie Marche. Her expertise in marketing, content, and design is enhanced with a passion for beauty and knack for business. She’s a true maven in the PR industry and elevates memorable experiences that speak to a brand’s true identity.

Here are some key snippets from our discussion.

Question: Why wouldn’t you go buy flowers/waffles/coffee from the grocery store? What is it about being able to buy flowers on the street at Nicollet Mall downtown that makes the business thrive?

Stine: It starts with the team. They understand they’re part of not just serving a product. They're serving an experience. They should be having fun. Also, I always explain to them the feeling behind the product. We take selfies in line. We have waffle hats. We talk to our customers about the feeling of what a Nordic waffle is. What it means. That’s the culture. The culture is to feel a moment or share a moment you’re in. People want that.

Foley: It all starts with the people. At Penny’s we believe a certain way of the world and the way we see the world. The people that are interacting with our guests every day are the ones making it happen. In terms of the build outs, I pride myself in localized experiences. Our Wayzata location feels like we’re on the lake. It's made with plywood and has that lake life feel. If you go downtown Minneapolis right off Washington Avenue, Penny's is in the lobby of a skyscraper and it’s built/meant to serve those guests. Our Linden Hills location feels like you’re in a ritzy neighborhood. We always want to build (design wise) a look that feels unique to the community it serves.

Amy: We [Ma Jolie Marche] are popping up where the people are, instead of relying on them to come to us. Which is what a lot of local flower shops do. However, people don’t really think about walking into a flower shop anymore. But when we pop up at breweries, festivities, and restaurants, we go where the people are and bring out the convenience. And this marketing term that is “surprise and delight” makes people happy. It catches them off guard.

Question: What kind of design decisions have you made that best communicate the brand? What elements visually communicate the brand to you? Why a Volkswagen van for flowers? Why the colors for the Nordic Waffle logo? Why the localized aesthetic for Penny’s?

Amy: My background is in design. We wanted to make sure to develop something on trend, but we didn’t want it to be boring or undone in a few years. I wanted to incorporate some luxe and high end. That's my personality, that's what I like. The custom-made striped canopy is something very traditional and classic to France and it helps convey that mobile brick and mortar. It took about 5 months to find that truck. We needed a neutral color because we wanted other elements of our brand to pop instead.

Foley: Localization of our brand is extremely important in what we do. Our design is geared towards serving specific communities. A few elements though will always be the same. Our bar and our seating is the same. There is beauty in simplicity. We’ve never tried to over engineer the space. Simple colors, materials, color palettes. Our spaces, our cup, is the best marketing opportunity we have.

Stine: To make and sell our product, we've constructed a Norwegian style cabin with grass on the roof. It's all about the heritage. We have what we call the "waffle theater" which is the experience of the waffles being made. These circular waffle makers product 150 waffles each per hour (Editors Note: that's a lot of waffles!) We put a gnome on the roof, as our mascot. His name is Norman; he is watching over us.

"Happiness is an addictive drug. If we evoke this in guests, in the radical hospitality we practice, we will have you come to our door time and time again."


Question: Can you talk a little bit about the impact your people have within the experience? Feel free to speak to the training that goes into prepping your people to communicate the brand/business well onsite.

Foley: Happiness is an addictive drug. If we evoke this in guests, in the radical hospitality we practice, we will have you come to our door time and time again. We should be willing to be doing the things other people don’t do to give our guests the ultimate experience. It’s not about the extra mile for our guests. It’s the mile after that.

Question: You have small physical spaces, but you have massive impact and awesome social media presence. Tell us a little bit about how you leverage social media and influencers to expand your voice. Do they come to you?

Amy: Social media for our first year was our main communication with people. I couldn’t bring myself to build a website because I was burnt out. Instagram turned out to be the perfect community. Instagram serves multiple different functions now beyond just being pretty. It’s also our main lead generation tool.

Stine: We are always very, very cautious about the brand. The waffle itself is a branding element. We developed the waffle maker and have exclusive rights in North America. For Instagram moments, people take a picture of the waffle in the wrapper. A waffle can be pretty boring. But it’s about making it fun. It’s all about making sure you feel the fun and love in the brand. Our mission is to inspire. To have heart. Love. Love is different for everyone.

Question: What are the challenges of street front merchandising? Or mobile marketing/mobile engagements? What are the logistics/regulatory hurdles you experience doing that kind of work?

Amy: We have a lot of logistics issues when driving the truck. She is 60 years old. And has no seat belts or gas gauge [laughs]. We’ve had a lot of really good success in North Loop, Minneapolis. We’re headquartered downtown. There are a lot of local businesses there that want to collaborate with us. Penny's Coffee was one of the first! The flowers are from all over the world, but I’m a small retailer. So, I grow some at my dad's farm as well.


Question: So, what’s next?

Foley: From a business perspective, we are going to open four locations in 2020, one per quarter. Other markets in 2021. Some favorites are Scottsdale and Denver. The hardest part of our business is to gain scale. A lot of concepts are successful when you have 1-3 but what about 20? We’re not interested in franchising.

Stine: We are going to move more south, continue with the State Fair - get on the new foods list. The biggest challenge is always to find talent for growing the business and finding the right people. We are making tiny molds of Norman as well so he can have his own life.

Amy: I'm changing directions all together; moving away from lifestyle and more into social impact. Human impact. Impact on society. That's the next phase for me, so stay tuned!


If you're interested in hearing the entire panel, watch the video here.

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