MINNEAPOLIS (WCCO) — With six months, one week and two days to go before the Minnesota State Fair, WCCO set out to ask one question that has, surely, been asked of every fair-goer at one point or another: What does Sweet Martha do for 50 weeks of the year?
With fresh baked cookies sitting on the counter of her St. Paul home, Martha Olson explained how the off-season is part relaxation, part preparation, and part side hustle.
In late 2018, her frozen dough line launched in Target stores nationwide. For the 15 years prior, Minnesotans have found them in the freezer section of local grocery store chains.
“They’re like we say in Minnesota, little hockey pucks,” said Olson, who started Sweet Martha’s Cookie Jar 40 years ago. “They’re already preformed for you in bags in the frozen section with the desserts. And the reason we did that is because we could mimic our taste from the fair the best way possible, with no preservatives. Then the person would have them fresh out of the oven, just like they do at the Minnesota State Fair.”
Olson says the most successful markets, so far, have been places like Arizona and Florida, both heavy with Minnesota transplants.
But her focus, for the most part, on the two weeks of the year where she finds the most joy (and profit). Sweet Martha’s Cookie Jar is consistently the Minnesota State Fair’s top vendor. In 2018, she sold a reported $4 million in bite-sized chocolate chip cookies.
It was the first State Fair after opening her third location, in the North End. This year, she’s working on renovations at the West End stand, to make it self-sufficient.
“With us building on to the Grandstand, we’re going to be able to serve our customers better,” said Olson.
Those renovations have been under construction through the winter. In February, Olson starts her hiring process, which she’s planning on increasing by 50 employees, to 800. In March, she holds her first manager’s meeting.
“They come with all their notes and we start hashing away how to do things better, what works better, and all those types of things to make the smoothest operation during those 12 days,” said Olson. “Literally we start planning now.”
She says the planning and logistics all help her control what she can, knowing Fair season comes with its share of variables.
“Mother Nature,” she said. “That is such a key when we’re working out there. The warmer it is, [the more] we have to tweak the way we’re mixing and doing everything. So the weather is one of the main factors we’ve had to work around … but we’ve gotten to be pretty good at that, too.”