'Forge With flavor'
For nine-and-a-half years, New Richmond's Dennis Klegin worked as the vintage toy manager at BigBadToys.com in Somerset where he would work with antique toys for the online store. At the same time, Klegin wanted nothing more than to fulfill his longtime dream of opening up his own spice company.
"I got tired of the crap that was in the stores," said Klegin, who has lived in New Richmond since 1980. "I mean, it is laden with chemicals and other nasty stuff. So, one day, I made a friend of mine some homemade seasoning and he liked it, but I wasn't too thrilled with it. I messed around with it a little bit and figured I liked this, this and this then put them together and that was the start of it. After that seasoning, it just kind of clicked and I've been doing this for going on 20 years now."
That was when the idea for Blacksmith Seasoning started to take shape in Klegin's mind, but no matter how hard he tried Klegin couldn't find the funds to get his idea off the ground. Klegin and his wife had been saving for years but the financials and logistics just never worked out, forcing the idea to be put on the back burner year after year.
Klegin's big break came when friend and Brady's Brewhouse owner Chris Polfus came to him one night with the idea of partnering up to make Klegin's dream into a reality.
"One night a few weeks after he floated the idea by me, we were sitting down at [Brady's] having a few beers and I looked over at him and asked, 'Are you serious about this partnership thing?' And he goes 'Yeah,'" Klegin recalled. "Then I said, 'Well good. Because I put in my two-weeks notice today.'"
Polfus, who is vice president of Blacksmith Seasonings, had been looking for a house seasoning for his restaurant for years and he didn't feel like anyone was better for the job than Klegin.
"In my opinion, Dennis is awesome at spices and being able to just take a spice mix and figure out that it is this, this and this just by tasting it," Polfus said. "I've always wanted this place (Brady's Brewhouse) to have its own spice. I could have tried to make one myself and just play around until I found something, but I haven't put the time into it that [Dennis] has, with the successes and failures of trial and error."
Polfus began using Klegin's special house blend, later named Papa's All-Purpose Seasoning, as a steak seasoning just over a month ago, but the pair felt that the mix could be used in pretty much every item on Brady's menu.
"We tried the spice mix on everything, and it just worked," Polfus said. "We put the seasoning on our french fries here and it is awesome. There were some items I thought couldn't be made better even with the seasoning, but it made those things better."
For now, the seasonings are prepared in a co-op kitchen in St. Michael, Minn., but once the new kitchen Klegin is having built is up and running the whole process will be moved to New Richmond.
Klegin and Blacksmith Seasonings, whose slogan is "Forge With Flavor," has been working for five-plus weeks making Papa's, and over that time they have sold more than 30 cases of the company's flagship seasoning. The spice mix, which comes in a small plastic seasoning bottle, is being sold at farmers markets around the area as well in retail stores, including Specialty Meats and Gourmet in Hudson, Angus Meat Market in Maplewood and B. Dalton Liquor in New Richmond.
The company plans to introduce two new seasonings in the near future, including a mix with an extra kick called Beelzerub, which features just five ingredients as well as a game seasoning. A website is also in the works and should be finished later this fall.
"I knew that this seasoning was really good and I'm very pleased with it, but to see the general populace really grab ahold of this and run with it is pretty awesome," Klegin said. "This is my passion and I've always wanted something like this to happen."