‘Arranged marriage’ preserves Swedish treats, launches ‘clean’ grocery

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Kari Finn and Linda Kellerman didn’t know each other very well when they decided to open a business together, nor was the idea of running a retail food store something either of them had favorably considered.

They’d both started working at Swedebread — a small outpost in High Point not far from the Piedmont Triad Farmers Market — less than a year before. But when owner Lena Vesterlund decided to close the shop to focus her energy on baking her Swedish and European goods, Finn and Kellerman dove in.

“When [Vesterlund] said, ‘I can’t do this anymore,’ I said, ‘I can’t not do it,’” Finn said.

“This is like an arranged marriage,” Kellerman offered. “But it’s worked out for both of us.”

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Together they opened the Budding Artichoke in February, a small store focused on “clean” food without too many ingredients. The emphasis is on local farms, with milk and eggs being the biggest sellers, as well as products that accommodate a variety of diets including gluten-free items and an assortment of things that align with something called the Next 56 Days diet.

Vesterlund’s products — hearty, northern European breads with rye and sourdough, cinnamon buns with no glaze, cookies and other things made with organic flour that aren’t too sweet — are still available in her former store Tuesday through Saturday. Swedish Volvo employees still come into the Budding Artichoke for “fika,” a traditional break involving coffee and one of Vesterlund’s treats, Kellerman said.

Swedebread opened in the Sandy Ridge Road storefront in 2009, Vesterlund said, and I first went a while back when a Swedish friend from High Point wanted to introduce me to semla, a sweet roll popular throughout Scandinavia. We sat in chairs at the front of the small shop — an area Kellerman and Finn refer to as “the front porch” though it is inside because it’s separate from the stocked shelves nearby.

Vesterlund’s creations are still a highlight of the Budding Artichoke, but they are only one aspect of the draw. The little grocery sells uncommon items including rabbit, ostrich and buffalo meat, as well as more predictable health-food store ones such as local honey, granola and produce.

Kellerman, who once ran unsuccessfully for Guilford County Commissioner, is a retired designer who worked at Mack Trucks. She handles more of the financial side of the operation, while Finn — who obtained an associates degree in sustainable agriculture from Central Carolina Community College — works more directly with the products.

She once swore she’d never run a business like this, but farming can be strenuous work, and when Vesterlund decided to switch her focus, Finn said the jump made sense. It’s seeped into her skin already, despite less than a year passing; Finn got a tattoo of an artichoke, her favorite food and the business’ namesake, on her forearm.

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Kellerman and Finn are figuring out different ways to bring people into their shop, which they describe as somewhere between a corner store and a gourmet boutique, including live music, pop-up dinners, partnerships with a CSA and a seafood vendor and offering to let people use the Budding Artichoke for classes or meetings.

img_1840It’s sort of out of the way, even for High Pointers, despite being a straight shot off Interstate 40 and a three-minute drive from the farmers market. Plenty of their customers are carry-overs from Swedebread, which sold a store full of items beyond Vesterlund’s baking output, though the duo are increasingly seeing new people walk in the door, a combination of customers coming for convenience and others going out of their way because of the curated, “clean” selection.

They’re still learning as they go — Kellerman had never tried a fresh fig until sampling one off a tree on the property, and she wouldn’t know what a pawpaw was without Finn — but they believe strongly in what they’re doing and making a concerted effort to see it through.

People are responding, they said, and not just because of them, but also because of all the local purveyors like Vesterlund that the Budding Artichoke supports.

 

Visit the Budding Artichoke at 2301 Sandy Ridge Road (HP), find regular updates on the Facebook page or check out thebuddingartichoke.com.