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Food supplier emphasizes freshness Couple's soup, trail mixes sold by area retailers By Al Parker
CEDAR -- Back in 1990, when Ken Denoyer whipped up a batch of bean soup from his own recipe, he didn't realize his wife Bernadette would turn the hearty concoction into a flourishing business.
But that's exactly how the Leelanau County natives launched Northern Seasons, a bustling local food supplier.
"We named it Ol' Geezer Soup," recalled Bernadette. "It was our very first product and everyone loved it so much that we soon came out with Ol' Geezer Pea Soup."
The company added Ol' Geezer Barley Soup, plus a growing line of fruit and nut products. Northern Seasons offers dried cherries, cranberries and blueberries, plus a tasty cherry-berry mix. There are also cherries coated in either yogurt or chocolate.
Some of the company's most popular products are its line of fruit and nut mixes, including Sleepy Bear Trail Mix, a blend of dried cranberries, dried tart cherries, raw pecans, fresh roasted almonds and chocolate covered cherries.
"Our newest product is Harvest Snack, which we introduced last fall," explained Bernadette. "It's made with dried apples, dried cranberries, raw almonds and fresh roasted pecans. It's been very popular."
Bernadette blends her fruit and nut mixes in relatively small batches, only 15-30 pounds at a time, in her commercial kitchen. That's one of the keys to the success of Northern Seasons, she said.
"People really want something fresh and delicious," she said. "By making small batches, all of our mixes are only days old. We do make the soup mixes ahead of time, since they stay fresh longer."
Bernadette grew up in Cedar, while Lake Leelanau was Ken's hometown. Both have the entrepreneurial spirit and operated Basket Expressions in Suttons Bay for several years before selling the shop in 2000.
"Running our own business just came easily to me," said Bernadette, who once worked as a secretary. "My Dad was always self-employed and my husband still operates his own plumbing and heating business."
Northern Seasons products can be found in several area locations, including Black Star Farms, Heavenly Ham and the Cedar City Market. Bernadette also sets up at farmer's markets in Traverse City, Leland, Glen Arbor and Elk Rapids. And they do a brisk Internet business at www.northernseasons.com.
This time of year she's kept busy preparing the soup mixes. In the next two to three weeks, she will begin blending the fruit-nut mixes for the first farmer's markets on Mother's Day weekend.
LAKE LEELANAU - Home of the well-known original “Ol’ Geezer” barley-bean soup mix, Bernadette Denoyer’s Northern Seasons, in Lake Leelanau, now offers a wide variety of products including soup mixes, mixed spices, dried fruit and nut mixes, chocolate covered cherries, trail mixes, and other items all prepared and packaged with the finest ingredients and lots of love.
“My husband Ken and I both love food,” said Denoyer, “especially comfort foods. Everyone loves food!”
A love for good food and knowledge of how to prepare it is something Denoyer grew up with.
“I’m from a large family – my parents had 12 children, and we lived on a farm in Cedar near Holy Rosary Church. Ken grew up in Lake Leelanau, and is from a family of six.” They have fond memories of wonderful family meals, and creating new recipes feels natural to both of them.
“Ken and I were brought up with hearty, home-cooked meals,” said Denoyer; “We both like nutritious foods, and find that they don’t have to be exotic to be really pleasing to the palate.”
Denoyer opened Northern Seasons in 1990, and her first product was “Ol’ Geezer” barley-bean soup mix, made from a recipe created by Ken.
“Before opening Northern Seasons, I owned a shop called ‘Basket Expressions,’ a specialty shop and gift basket business that I started in 1987 and ran for 13 years,” said Denoyer. “The gift baskets I created then had food products in them, but I wanted to have a product that was my own in the store, and the idea for the soup mix was born.”
The name ‘Ol’ Geezer’ caused a lot of laughter when they saw it while on a road trip to California to visit one of their sons. “We thought that would be a good name for the new bean soup mix” said Denoyer. “People could get to be healthy ‘old geezers’ by eating more beans!”
“I keep testing each new recipe until I’m sure it’s tasty, nutritious, and so good that I, and my customers, won’t get tired of it,” she said. “I have people taste-test it until it gets a ‘Yes! It’s ready for market!’”
Denoyer purchases most of her ingredients locally or from Michigan producers; she buys beans grown in the Frankenmuth area and dried fruits from the Leelanau Peninsula and Grand Traverse County. And besides being able to support local growers, she said that her greatest satisfaction comes from seeing her customers happy with their purchases.
“I feel blessed by the support they give me and my work.
“I get orders from companies, from organizations having fundraisers, and from people throughout the United States,” she said. “My products have even been shipped to soldiers in Iraq. I also do five farm markets a week through the summer, and then start right in with the art and craft fairs until the middle of December. I really enjoy the farm markets and fairs because they give me a chance to meet and visit with people who live in the area.”
Northern Seasons products can be found in several local stores including The Covered Wagon on M-204, Buntings in Cedar, the Cedar City Market, and the Village Market in Glen Arbor. “I’d also like to see Northern Seasons products in health food and specialty food stores,” said Denoyer.
It’s a good thing that Denoyer loves her work. In the summer, through the fall, and right up to Christmas she works 8 to 12 hours a day, except for Sunday.
“I’m always happy to design a personal gift box of our foods to send to your family, friends, business associates, or customers,” she said. “We’ll ship the package and send a greeting card for you! Or you can stop in or make your selections online, and I’ll have your order ready for you when you arrive.”
To learn more about Northern Seasons and its line of tasty and nutritious products, visit www.northernseasons.com, or call Bernadette Denoyer at 231-994-2318.