Success stories

Nisu Bakery and Cafe

Hancock, Michigan

Nisu Bakery and Cafe got a small business loan from Northern Initiatives.It made perfect sense to Irma Boyd to settle in the Keweenaw. She’s Finnish and so is 35% of the rest of the population. Then she realized no one in the area was serving authentic Finnish food – and that there was a dearth of cozy sit-down spots in downtown Hancock – so she got to work.

She’d been dreaming of owning her own business for two decades but life as an Army spouse meant moving every 1-3 years. When her husband retired after 33 years of service, they were able to settle down – just as the pandemic hit, deferring the dream for another few years.

And when it came to financing the dream, Irma couldn’t get a loan for her startup from traditional banks. Happily, they referred her to Northern Initiatives.

Boyd’s SBA Microloan closed in February 2023 and also provided technical assistance to help with marketing. Todd Gast, community development manager for the city of Hancock and its Downtown Development Authority, is a fan of Boyd’s marketing efforts as well as the design of the business.

“That’s another great added bonus for having something on your main street that looks really good, that is inviting. That’s one of the things all main streets would relish (having),” Gast told UpWord.

Nisu Bakery and Cafe got a small business loan from Northern Initiatives.Boyd also was awarded a $25,000 Match on Main grant from the Michigan Economic Development Corp., one of only four projects in the U.P. to receive funding.

Northern Initiatives Commercial Lender Sam Lanctot championed Irma’s business through a drawn-out inspection and permitting process that took several months longer than anyone anticipated. It also resulted in having to make leasehold improvements that required a second loan, this one using revolving loan funds.

And now, just in time for those spectacular Keweenaw color tours, Nisu Bakery & Café is open and serving Irma’s authentic Nordic food. There’s pullaa – or nisu – cardamom bread (first place at the fair!) and rolls, croissants, cookies, log cakes, and pies – and that’s just the bakery case. Salmon and shrimp, prepared in true Scandinavian fashion, are available in sandwiches, soups and salads, and there are grab-and-go foods perfect for all three meals of the day.

And of course, coffee. Irma developed her own blend that is so popular she’s started selling bags of that too. And yes, it includes a hint of cardamom.

“It’s … a really wonderful business to have on our main street,” Gast said. “Having a bakery like that in our area is a magnet, it brings people to our town … because it’s fairly unique.”

Nisu Bakery and Cafe got a small business loan from Northern Initiatives.
Finnish blueberry pie using UP blueberries

One aspect of owning her own business that Boyd enjoys is, for lack of a better word, human resources. She brings her Scandinavian sense of fairness into the work culture. That results in her staff taking care of all their own scheduling, Paul Hauser, the baker she just hired, letting his creativity shine on Irma’s recipes, and everyone being paid a living wage. “It’s all good,” Irma said.

Part of Irma’s business strategy while she awaited inspections and equipment was to open a gift shop featuring Scandinavian goods, including art, jewelry, kitchenwares, and candy, and now including Nisu logowear and that wonderful coffee. She’s not only introducing her homeland to her new home, but creating another year-round revenue stream. Many items are available online, too.

Fall delights at Nisu Bakery & Café will include Finnish Apple Pie, Lingonberry (and Cocoa) Log Cakes, and Pumpkin, Cranberry, and Orange Scones and Muffins. Winter is Boyd’s season, and she’s looking forward to the Keweenaw snow while also planning conversational Finnish and Swedish language classes.

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Nisu Bakery and Cafe got a small business loan from Northern Initiatives.
Irma Boyd’s Cardamom Pulla Braid won first place at the 2023 Houghton County Fair

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