Buyout of Minnesota company creates big fish in lutefisk business

July 28, 2015

Associated Press

St. Paul, Minn - There's a big fish in the lutefisk business

Olsen Fish Co. of Minneapolis has purchased Mike's Fish & Seafood of Glenwood. Olsen President Chris Dorff said that combined, the two companies produced more than a half million pounds of aromatic lutefisk last year

Those numbers are nothing to plug your nose at, considering many young people have never tried the traditional Scandinavian dish – with its squishy texture, powerful smell, and unique flavor.

But the dish, made from cod soaked in lye, has oodles of devotees at Lutheran church suppers, Scandinavian Christmases and fraternal dinners.

The lutefisk season in the Upper Midwest begins in the fall and peaks at Christmas. At Our Savior's Lutheran Church in Beldenville, Wis., busloads of people attended an annual lutefisk dinner each October. The church serves up to 2,000 pounds of lutefisk, said Audrey Halverson.

Some people who come, even if they don't like lutefisk, like the rest of (the food). And we have people who come and that's all they eat – they eat a whole platter of lutefisk," she said.

Olsen Fish Co. plans to continue the Mike's brand of lutefisk, which began 35 years ago when Mike Fields started making his own lutefisk in a tin shed behind the store. Fields died in the spring and his family decided to sell the business.

People identify with certain brands and it's very important to maintain the brand that everyone is used to. Because we're dealing with a tradition," Dorff said.

Terms of the purchase were not disclosed. But unlike Olsen's pickled herring products, lutefisk – which sells for about $4 to $5 a pound – is not a growth market.

But Dorff wants to create a new generation of lutefisk lovers by offering samples. He said the often, people will say: "Hey, this is good. What are all the jokes about?"