CLEAR LAKE — Mike and Ed Flanum and their dad, Keith, have been tapping trees and making maple syrup together for almost 30 years. By the end of last year’s season, they realized that they had outgrown their little sugar shack on the family farm and it was time to move on to the next level.
The Flanums bought some property that had come up for sale along busy U.S. Highway 63 just south of town and, this spring, opened Kripple Kreek Syrup Co., where they process sap from their own 3,000 taps plus sap from more than 20 other people, including one producer with 5,000 taps. By Memorial Day weekend, they plan to open a local-foods cafe on the site.
“We’ll promote farm-to-table eating and will buy local,” Ed said. “That one and a half months we’re making syrup, we want people to know that a few hours before, that stuff was in the trees.”
The Flanums hosted a Maple Day on April 1 at their new facility. The day included tours, hay rides to observe sap collection in the Clear Lake Park and a pancake breakfast with all proceeds donated toward park improvements.
When they first got involved in the syrup business, the Flanums collected sap from their own farm and hauled it to someone else’s processing facility. A decade ago, they bought their first flat pan evaporator and started cooking on their own, producing about 100 gallons of syrup a season. They purchased their current evaporator, which enables them to cook more sap faster, five years ago. They then added reverse osmosis to the process so they could process an even greater volume at a faster rate.
For several years, the Flanums have tapped maple trees in the village park. They now have 1,500 taps there and lease A&M Sugarbush near Amery.
“He’s still licensed to bottle,” Ed said. “Three years ago, we did a 10-year lease with them.”
Further expansion plans are already in the works for next year. With about 10,000 total taps, Kripple Kreek now processes about half of what their equipment could handle, he said. An outdoor patio was installed to accommodate some outdoor sap cooking.
The property along U.S. Highway 63, frequently traveled by cabin owners and tourists from Minnesota, gives them great exposure and allows them to offer their syrup on a retail level instead of simply wholesale, although they still sell some product to Roth Sugar Bush in Cadott, Ed said.
“If you put it in the bottle, you can triple your money on it,” he said.
Keith may be partial, but “this area has excellent-tasting syrup. I think it’s the minerals in the ground. We have hard water. All syrup tastes good, but ours, we like to think it has a better taste.”
Mike and Keith both work full time with Kripple Kreek, while Ed and some other men involved in the enterprise work during the off-season on erosion control projects in the Twin Cities, mostly for the Minnesota Department of Transportation.
“We’re all laid off around Christmastime,” he said. By early-April, “they’re ready for us to get done sapping so we can come back.”
A few years ago, brothers Sterling and Colton Marlett joined them in all aspects of production. The Flanum brothers’ children, Ashley, Avery and Tyler, also help out during the season and when they’re not in school or at their other jobs. Mike, who had one leg amputated last year, is limited as far as working in the woods, Ed said.
“We needed some youth in our woods,” Ed said.
As the sapping season winds down, the Flanums are gearing up to finish remodeling the building next-door into a cafe. The cafe will be open seven days a week, at first serving breakfast and lunch only. Ed said the cafe will showcase their syrup, as well as other locally produced foods. They’re seeking to partner with local farmers with meat and produce to sell.
“There’s a difference in the taste. We don’t want to have canned stuff,” said Ed, who, with his brother, has a college degree in hotel and restaurant management.
They also see the Central Wisconsin Produce Auction in Withee as a good source. Last fall, they bought pumpkins and mums on the auction to re-sell as a way of alerting locals and passersby early about their business. They also plan to make Christmas trees and possibly more produce available.
Kripple Kreek Syrup Co. is at 955 U.S. Highway 63 at the intersection with County Road F just south of Clear Lake. For more information, find them on Facebook by searching “Kripple Kreek Syrup Company” or email Ed Flanum at email@example.com.