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Old Town Bagels and Cafe reopens in new, next door location

It may have been less than two weeks, but for many loyal customers, it was still a painfully long wait.

Owatonna bagel buffs rejoiced on Friday when Old Town Bagels and Cafe was back open for business following an 11-day closure. This specific closure, however, had nothing to do with the ongoing pandemic and everything to do with a new exciting adventure for the cafe’s owners and all of the community.

The OTB Cafe opened brand new doors that morning, located alongside their former location on the 200 block of North Cedar Avenue. Owners Mark and Stacy Wilson had been wanting to expand their wildly popular business for a handful of years, and when Mac Hamilton of Hamilton Real Estate Group presented his plan to totally redevelop that block, the perfect opportunity finally presented itself. Because Hamilton had no desire of knocking down the building that housed the bagel shop, the former Jerry’s Supper Club and an empty space between the two, the decision was made early on that the Wilsons would expand into the vacant space.

The reconstruction of the cafe’s new space, done by Mohs Contracting, has been ongoing all fall, but Sept. 26 marked the beginning of the official transition between the two locations.

“Our oven is 8-foot-by-8-foot-by-8-foot and hard to be taken apart piece by piece to get out the front door,” laughed Mark Wilson. “The same with our walk-in cooler, but we got it all moved over and it filled the space pretty good.”

Optimistic they could make the transition happen in one week, Wilson joked that they needed a bit more time to make sure everything was in place for the grand re-opening. When the time finally came Friday, the public showed their appreciation — and loyalty — abundantly.

“It was a very good, very busy weekend,” Wilson said. “A lot of people were impressed with the remodel, and a lot of our regulars came in. Then they shared it with their friends and were back with those friends the next day.”

There was also a sea of blue that emerged into the cafe, Wilson said, when the students were able to go explore the new location following the early release for Owatonna’s Homecoming celebration.

“The kids found us,” he laughed.

Wilson said the staff is still adjusting to the new space, but that they are happy to have new and additional equipment to get food made and out to hungry customers. They are also working on hiring additional staff, he said, and are hoping to onboard a couple new employees each week for the rest of the month.

More than a new look

The new location is only one small portion of what is new at OTB Cafe — a noticeable change being the new-ish name they are promoting.

“Cafe has always been in the name and ‘Old Town Bagels’ is such a mouth full,” said Stacy Wilson. “The Old Town Bagels is still there, but we thought it made sense with the update to push this name.”

New signage is currently being developed to hang in the front and back of the store, showcasing the ‘OTB Cafe,’ but iconic pieces of ‘Old Town Bagels’ is still on full display from the painted windows to the sign that hung in the former location.

Another major new piece is what customers will be greeted with when they first walk into the front door of the cafe — ice cream. This spring, the cafe partnered with Chocolate Shoppe Ice Cream Co., a family-owned creamery based in Madison, Wisconsin, to become proprietors for the Owatonna area to serve the premium ice cream. The Wilsons took the ice cream show on the circuit this summer, including catering a high school graduation and scooping up servings at the Steele County Free Fair, and now in their new location, the ice cream will be a permanent fixture.

“There will always be 24 flavors available, but some of those flavors will change, because there are more than just 24 flavors,” Mark Wilson said of what will be available in the shop. “We’re selling pints as well, and if someone wants a pint of a flavor we don’t currently have in the cooler, if they give us some notice we will happily get it pinted for them.”

The ice cream also served as one of the catalysts of the other major change for the bagel shop: new store hours. Having always closed after the lunch rush in the past, the cafe will be open from 6:30 a.m. to 7 p.m. Monday through Saturday.

“Our kitchen will still close at 2:30, so we won’t be making sandwiches and such after that time,” Wilson said. “But we will have sweet treats, ice cream and coffee all evening.”

The cafe will still be closed on Sundays.

A sign of what’s to come

While the excitement of reopening is still fresh, Wilson said what was experienced this weekend is just one small part of the excitement of what is still yet to come for downtown Owatonna.

The bigger picture of Hamilton’s reconstruction plan for the building is for it to coincide with the Marriott Courtyard hotel opening on the same block, as well as apartments simultaneously being built on Pearl Street. A downtown hotel has been on the wish list for Owatonna leaders for decades, and also served as a catalyst for the city to begin the streetscape road reconstruction project. The streetscape project, which is reconstructing the 100-300 blocks of North Cedar Avenue, is scheduled for completion during the 2022 construction season.

“It’s all happening and finally coming to light,” said Wilson, adding that he hopes members of the community will see the cafe’s new look as a promising sign of what is yet to come for the downtown district. “We were just the first little step, and there is a lot more to come.”

Annual Hospital Auxiliary Bazaar to return in new location
  • Updated

Mark your calendars, because the Owatonna Hospital Auxiliary Bazaar is back.

After being unable to host the popular shopping event in 2020 due to COVID-19 restrictions, the ladies of the auxiliary made some adjustments and are able to host the bazaar this year, but at a new locations. For the first time, the bazaar will be held at St. John Lutheran Church in Owatonna.

“We are excited for the location change,” said Kathy Ihlenfeld, auxiliary co-chair. “There’s plenty of parking and easy access for people to come out if they have a walker or a wheelchair.”

The two-day event will begin Friday, Nov 5. and conclude Saturday, Nov. 6. This year marks the 58th year the Bazaar has been running. The organizers, who have mostly been involved for the last 20 plus years said it’s not too early to think about attending.

The bazaar is certainly a community favorite, generally drawing upwards of 1,000 attendees in recent years.

“We know we won’t see the same number of people this year,” said Judy Karaus, the other auxiliary co-chair. “But we still want to get the word out to people to support the cause.”

All profits from the bazaar stay at the Owatonna Hospital. For the last several years, the auxiliary has been donating Halo baby swaddles for each baby that is born. The hospital estimates about 500 babies are born there each year.

The auxiliary also puts money toward scholarships for medical students and other special unfunded projects in the hospital.

To keep everyone safe, the bazaar will not be doing their popular passport program this year. Instead, each vendor booth will contribute a $25 gift card as for a door prize drawing. Entrants do not need to be present to pick up their goodies.

Lunch will also not be served this year, but coffee, treats and water will be provided with a free-will donation instead.

New and Nearly New, Sewing, Bake, Collective Goods, Santa’s Stocking Stuffers, and Sheets Galore will all be returning to the event this year. The hospital gift shop will also be open at the hospital and will have an outlet sale at the bazaar.

“We have toys, games, knick-knacks, STEM toys and books available at Collective Goods,“ said Sheryl Ignaszewski, co-chair of the event. “From infants to adults — there’s something for everyone.”

Shirley Nelson, auxiliary member who is in charge of the New and Nearly New booth, said that everything you can find at the booth is donated by the community and everything is barely used or brand new.

“People like to repurpose things and recycle them,” Nelson said. “We have clothes and toys and decor that are used, but look brand new, and everything comes at a great price.”

The ladies of the auxiliary are incredibly passionate about making the event a success. They agreed that many in the community enjoy supporting small business and appreciate the homemade and handcrafted items that can be found at the bazaar.

“Many people love the hand-embroidered dishtowels and pot holders — they’re our number one selling items,” Ihlenfeld said. “One towel takes about five hours to make, and we sold more than 200 at the [Steele County Free Fair].”

All together, over 200 volunteers collaborate to make the event a success. From the bakers to the sewers to those that help set up and tear down the bazaar, the process for the event is ongoing all year around.

“The ladies are sewing and crafting all year,” Ihlenfeld said. “Not just for the bazaar, but for the fair as well.”

The annual Owatonna Hospital Auxiliary Holiday Bazaar will take place on Friday, Nov. 5, from 8 a.m. to 5 p.m., and Saturday, Nov. 6 from 8 a.m. to 2 p.m. at the St. John Lutheran Church in Owatonna.

Fair board gifts checks to local nonprofits, celebrates positive financial year

Not having a Steele County Free Fair in 2020 was difficult for everyone — the children who mark it as the end of summer, the loyal attendees who look forward to it year after year, the vendors who work it, and, not the least of all, the nonprofits who benefit from it.

“Right around 30 local nonprofit groups have budget lines for the fair,” said Scott Kozelka, manager of the SCFF. “They either have a stand or park cars; the fair is always an opportunity for them to gain some income.”

During the return of the fair in August, members of the fair board knew early on that they wanted to make sure they gave back to the community, especially after dealing with the COVID-19 pandemic for 18 months. The organizers elected to have a special fundraising concert featuring Jason Pritchett in the grandstand and chose two monumental nonprofits to be the benefactors: the United Way or Steele County and Community Pathways of Steele County.

While the concert wasn’t everything they hoped it would be, Kozelka said, the board still aimed to make an impact on those two important nonprofits. During its meeting Thursday, the board presented both organizations with $2,500 checks. United Way President Annette Duncan was left speechless, while Community Pathways Co-Executive Director Nancy Ness could not stop expressing both gratitude and praise.

“What the fair does for this community does not go unnoticed,” Ness said to the board. “This means so much to both our groups. You could have picked anyone, but you picked us.”

While the board was happy to make the donations to the organizations, Kozelka said it was more than earned by the nonprofits, their staff and their volunteers.

“The United Way was out here every single night taking tickets at the grandstand,” Kozelka said, adding that the staff and volunteers at Community Pathways were also quick to jump in and help wherever they could each day of the 2021 fair. “Community involvement is a big part of the fair, and because both these groups helped the fair, we are happy to help them in return.”

Positive financials

Also during the board meeting, the group went over the total profit and loss budget for the 2020-21 financial year, which ends in September. According to Tim Arlt, treasurer for the fair, it was a good year.

“We are up about $300,000 from where we were in 2019,” Arlt said, adding that he chose to compare the numbers to 2019 because of there being no fair in 2020. “We can’t complain about that.”

The total gross profit for the 2021 fair came in at just over $1.5 million. The fair did, however, record and additional $100,000 in expenses for 2021 compared to the last year Steele County was able to have a fair.