Sustaining Local Food Systems: Darlings Grocery Fills Community Need on Madeline Island

Samantha Erkkila, Digital Media Specialist

March 26, 2024

Lauren Schuppe and Gilpin Matthews purchased Madeline Island's only grocery store in the summer of 2023. (Entrepreneur Fund)

We’ve all forgotten an item on our shopping list. You get home and realize you forgot to buy eggs, bread, or cinnamon for the special dessert you were going to make.

For most of us, it’s no problem to turn the car around, walk back into the grocery store and buy the missing item. But for over a third of residents in northern Minnesota and Wisconsin, the nearest full-service grocery store is over 10+ miles away and for year-round residents on Wisconsin’s Madeline Island, that trip would involve an added ferry ride - or a winter trip via windsled or ice road - across Lake Superior if it wasn’t for Lauren Schuppe.

Mixing Island Life with Entrepreneurial Life

The owner of Farmhouse Kitchen and Inn for over nine years, Schuppe purchased the island’s only grocery store in the summer of 2023.

“Darlings Grocery was a long-term project that we saw extreme need for from the very beginning of our time on Madeline Island,” said Schuppe, who operates her businesses with her husband Gilpin Matthews.

Prior to housing Darlings Grocery, the building was home to a seasonal, tourist driven store that carried primarily convenience foods. There was no dedicated store for fresh groceries and basic cooking essentials let alone organic and locally sourced goods, said Schuppe.

When she opened Farmhouse Kitchen as a little breakfast restaurant in 2015, she sold groceries in a small area of the restaurant that first winter and while it was successful, it took up too much real estate during the busy summer months. Her grocery offerings went through a couple different phases after that, ultimately leading her to explore the option of opening a full-scale grocery store on the island.

“I knew with the other endeavors that scaling up slightly to off-sell the extra would be advantageous for all community members,” said Lauren. “We were already bringing food here, we just didn’t have a venue to market it.”

Healthy Food Fund

As part of our commitment to support our rural communities, the Entrepreneur Fund provides specialized loans for local grocery stores, convenience stores and food producers in our service region. The Healthy Food Fund (HFF) offers low market rates and flexible terms to those business owners who are looking to upgrade equipment, access working capital or in Lauren’s case purchase commercial real estate.

“Darlings Grocery is crucial to the health and well-being of the island residents and visitors,” said Tom Clark, Entrepreneur Fund loan officer who worked with Lauren to purchase the building. “Lauren is heavily involved with the island’s food scene. This venture was a great opportunity for her and I’m happy we were able to provide her the necessary support.”

In partnership with a Northern State Bank Ashland loan and an Ashland Area Development Corporation FUNDiversity Grant, EFund’s Healthy Food Fund loan enabled Lauren to purchase the building and the former business that occupied the space.  

“As a woman-owned business seeking financing can be challenging and intimidating,” said Lauren. “There was only support where the EFund was concerned. Navigating the different opportunities was never stressful and their reassurance was much needed in some of the negotiations with the seller.”

Strengthening the Island’s local food system

The purchase of Darlings Grocery strengthens the Madeline Island food system by providing affordable basics, offering deli pick-up and supporting the vibrant farming community on the island to create a future hub that promotes self-sufficiency.

“Strengthening local food systems in rural Minnesota and Wisconsin is an important part of our work,” said Mike Lattery, Entrepreneur Fund Director of Business Finance. “Lauren and her businesses, the restaurant, her farm, and now the grocery store, contribute to more sustainable practices and the overall well-being of the Madeline Island community.”

In just the first eight months, Darlings has become a bustling place that Lauren says people can depend on. She sees it becoming an even stronger community hub over the next five years as they continue to add more offerings, a deep winter greenhouse for freshly grown veggies year-round, and support for her fellow island farmers.

“It is a unique life living as a Madeline Island resident. Despite its many challenges I am honored to live here every day,” said Lauren. “It all equates to a lot more time, effort, and resources. However, the island is magical and when those moments are observed it makes the extra efforts worth it.”

How do I get started with HFF?

By addressing the unique challenges faced by local food businesses, EFund aims to strengthen our local food system by offering tailored financial solutions and support.

If you're a local food retailer or producer in Minnesota or Wisconsin, we encourage you to contact our team to learn more about how the Healthy Food Fund can help your business grow and succeed.

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