By Evan J. Pretzer
Doug and Alicia Gjertson used to date in high school, but went their separate ways. Thanks to Facebook, the couple reunited nearly a decade ago — and now they’ve been running a new business, The Pickle Jar Grinds & Finds café in Wausau, since May.
The Pickle Jar, which features baked goods, bagels and drinks, opened up on 4308 N. 6th St. Word of mouth has been strong, demand has been high and, while successful, it is not something the pair raised in Iowa set out to do at first in their lives.
“We dated in high school,” Doug Gjertson says. “I graduated, went my way and she went her way. We reconnected [online] when she was in Minneapolis and have been married nine years.”
After tying the knot, they resettled in a home together in the community. They kept noticing the current building that now houses the Pickle Jar sitting vacant and deprived of life when out and driving around. It has been a hair salon, a place to go and buy pizza and initially the Gjertson’s did not think they could do something with it at this point in life. Then, the COVID-19 pandemic and a night of drinks changed their views.
“We were reevaluating life and what to do for a living,” Alicia Gjertson says. “Some of our finds, my friend and I really wanted to do that, but places to rent are very expensive. So, we spent one night with too many Old-Fashioned’s at BB Jacks and said ‘hey, what about coffee? There is nothing here for a quick-stop community place.’ It’s been fun to see it come to fruition.”
Those who walk in are immediately presented with a quaint and rustic space befitting a country antique store. The menu includes items such as coffee, tea, hot chocolate, smoothies and lattes. Seating including a classic table beckons passers-by to sit, rest and relax. The repurposed, reclaimed and crafted items are on the walls and shelves here. All are Wisconsin-made, for sale and Alicia says the supply of signs, plates and unique pieces is constantly shifting.
“People are buying what we are displaying and it is a great problem to have,” she says. “I am constantly texting my consignors and saying ‘OK, hey guys, we need to go out and get some more stuff.’ One of our baristas, she even makes hand and lip scrubs from our coffee grounds.”
Future plans include a potential flea market in the facility’s parking lot, bringing in food trucks and collaborating with other businesses in the area. The welcome the site has seen has been moving for Doug and he says they would not be as busy if not for this sort of kindness.
“It has been very reassuring to us,” he says. “People have told their friends and this is helping.”
The endgame includes passing the project on to someone internally or letting an outsider learn the business alongside the pair so they can fully retire in the future. For now, each day is an adventure and, if people come in to get pickles, Alicia delights in explaining it is not their role.
“[The name] actually comes from a life-time management theory,” Alicia Gjertson says. “It is really important to prioritize so tasks and things you want to do in life all fit in a jar. It is philosophical, but we love to tell people. We still have meaningful dreams to continue to contributing to the community and making money. Plus, it is also a much more fun name.”
The Pickle Jar Grinds & Finds is open from 6:30 a.m. to 2:30 p.m. Monday through Friday. It is open from 8:00 a.m. to 1 p.m. Saturday, closed on Sundays and can be reached at 715–298-2406.
Evan J. Pretzer is a contributor to City Pages. He can be reached at [email protected].