celebrates Scandinavian heritage
WRITTEN AND PHOTOGRAPHED BY CHRIS MONROE
MINNESOTA IS HOME TO MORE THAN 1.6 MILLION PEOPLE OF SCANDINAVIAN DESCENT, more than any other state in the country. So, it stands to reason that our state would also be home to many restaurants, stores and other venues that cater to people of Scandinavian heritage, those with roots in Denmark, Finland, Norway, and Sweden.
One such place is the Nordic Haus in Crosslake. Kristi Morsch and her husband, Randy, have owned the store since February 2014. “It was owned by my cousin and his wife,” says Kristi. “They were ready to retire so we bought it.”
Nordic Haus owner Kristi Morsch stands outside her Scandinavian store in Crosslake.
The Morsches were living in Moorhead at the time and Randy held a management position in the coffee industry. They considered combining the business with a coffee shop, but decided to keep it simple. “A coffee shop would have required early mornings,” Kristi says. “This is my hobby in retirement.”
Nordic Haus gets its name from its original owners. One was Scandinavian and the other German. It was a nice way to blend the two.
While many of the store’s customers are of Scandinavian descent, others are just looking for unique gifts. “My customers change with the seasons,” says Morsch. “Summer tourists are often buying gifts for friends and family back home or are just curious about what we have to offer. When fall hits, those who live here and have shopped at the store before come in.”
Morsch says that the popularity of genetic testing, like Ancestry.com and 23andMe.com, has led to people being more tuned in to their ancestry and wanting to learn more about where they came from. For her part, Morsch learned through testing that she is 92 percent Scandinavian. “The remaining eight percent is a combination of several nationalities, including Western Russian, English and Irish,” Morsch says.
Most of the items in the store are Scandinavian, but Morsch stocks a little something for everyone, especially those who hail from Minnesota. A popular children’s book sold at the store? Goodnight Loon.
No Scandinavian store would be complete without several of the staples of the countries. A mainstay in Norway is lefse, a thin tortilla made from potatoes rather than flour or corn. Many Norwegians eat lefse rolled up with butter and sugar. Morsch sells the grills and other utensils used to make lefse.
Lingonberry jam, from a plentiful Scandinavian berry, is sold in the store and is used as a side dish to meat or spread on toast.
Scandinavian items and gifts of all kinds don the shelves at the Nordic Haus in Crosslake.
Among Morsch’s most popular items are Swedish dishcloths. “We sold over 2,000 last season,” Morsch says. “They sell like hotcakes.”
Children’s books are also popular, many with a Scandinavian flair, like My Grandmother Ironed the King’s Shirts. “I don’t sell a lot of high-end items,” Morsch says. “My older shoppers don’t need many things and the younger ones don’t buy expensive glassware and decorative items. Socks and Swedish linens are big sellers, as is anything for kids and babies.”
Another unique item is Swedish vinyl rugs. “They’re indoor/outdoor rugs from recycled material,” Morsch says. “In 39 years of marriage, Randy and I have only replaced ours once.”
Visitors to the Nordic Haus are greeted by Torvil the Troll. Norwegian folklore taught that trolls were menacing creatures. But the Good Luck Troll was created in the 1930s by a poor woodcarver in a remote area of Denmark and nowadays trolls are viewed as good luck charms. The store also sports two metal goats on its roof. Goats are celebrated animals in Scandinavian countries. A popular theory is that honoring goats is a way to worship the Norse god, Thor, who, legend has it, rode the sky in a chariot drawn by two goats.
Morsch always has hot coffee for her customers, but visit the shop during her Christmas open house and you’ll be treated to kransekake, the celebratory Norwegian ring cake, and glogg, a Swedish mulled wine spiced with cinnamon and cloves and served over almonds or raisins.
Morsch also commemorates Syttende Mai, Norwegian Constitution Day, which is celebrated on May 17, by flying Norwegian flags and providing a special for visitors to the store that day.
Several times during the summer months, Morsch invites local artisans to share their crafts with her customers. Porch Past Times feature Rosemalers, Scandinavian wood painters, needle workers stitching a form of embroidery called Hardanger or birch basket weavers. Always held on Saturdays, visitors enjoy learning about the craft and chatting with the artists.
In addition to the Nordic Haus, you can also find Morsch at the Crosslake Lutheran Church where she serves as the choir director.