Minot, ND: Sisters in Food Business for Long Haul

Dan Feldner/MDN • Sharon Brauer, left, and Lesli Getzlaff stand next to their new food truck at the North Dakota State Fair Thursday morning. The two sisters started The Wife’s Kitchen out of a trailer nine years ago and just upgraded to this new, custom-built truck around Thanksgiving of last year.

By DAN FELDNER | MinotDailyNews.com

Dan Feldner/MDN • Sharon Brauer, left, and Lesli Getzlaff stand next to their new food truck at the North Dakota State Fair Thursday morning. The two sisters started The Wife’s Kitchen out of a trailer nine years ago and just upgraded to this new, custom-built truck around Thanksgiving of last year.

One loves to cook, the other loves to count. Who knew two sisters with such different interests could work so well together in a food truck?

Nine years ago Lesli Getzlaff and Sharon Brauer had a dream, and they found a way to make that dream a reality the same way countless others have – eBay. They bought a food service trailer off the online auction site, named it The Wife’s Kitchen and got cooking.

“We were just talking one night, saw it on there and said she can cook, I had some money” Brauer said.

“So we went for it,” Getzlaff said.

Getzlaff spent 10 years as a child selling footlong hotdogs at the State Fair, and has always loved the fair and loved to cook. Brauer is an accountant by trade, and spent her childhood on the family farm between Burlington and Des Lacs, spending most of her time in the barn with the calves, kittens and their father while her younger sister learned in the kitchen with their mother and grandmother.

When the sisters grew up, Getzlaff moved away, started a family and moved back to Burlington. She cooked for a living managing various restaurants, but when Getzlaff came back home she decided she wanted to start her own business and be her own boss.

“Instead of making someone else rich, I’ll be rich,” Getzlaff said with a long laugh, noting she realizes her food truck isn’t exactly a get-rich-quick scheme.

“We’re having fun. We love it. It’s fun,” Brauer added. “You get to meet so many people. It’s just amazing how many people you get to meet.”

The sisters aren’t the only family helping out with the business, either. Their father, Robert Reiner, is 85 years old and still helps when needed.

“He loves coming down here to the fair every year,” Getzlaff said. “He does our dicing and helps us out.”

“Up until two years ago he used to come in and help me during the noon rush and he’d run the deep fryers,” Brauer said. “He had a stroke two years ago so it kind of got a little hard for him. We had to slow him down.”

“He didn’t want to, but we kind of made him,” Getzlaff added. “He’ll be down here this year. He never misses.”

Other family members help from time to time as well, including a niece and Getzlaff’s son, who doesn’t help as much as he used to because at 6 foot 8 inches and 290 pounds, he doesn’t exactly fit in the cramped kitchen very well. Also assisting when she can is Grace Leslie, the best friend of the sisters’ mother who also still drives a bus for the City of Minot at 80 years old.

That first year at the North Dakota State Fair was a learning experience, to say the least. They were in the spot now occupied by Pita Pit and had to learn things the hard way.

“In our first year we had no clue what we were doing,” Getzlaff said. “None whatsoever.”

As far as lessons from that first year, Brauer learned one of the most important for a food booth.

“I learned how to cook,” Brauer said with a laugh. “I can’t cook, I’m an accountant.”

Having the right amount of product, interacting with people and learning how to fix broken equipment on the fly were just some of the things they took away from that first year.

“We learned everything that first year,” Getzlaff said. “We thought we were ready to go, but no, we weren’t.”

Fortunately, Getzlaff’s husband Terry is a jack of all trades and helps out with repairs and anything else that needs doing when he can.

Although it was stressful, both sisters have fond memories of their first year at the State Fair.

“The first year was, I think, one of the funniest just because it was the first year that we got to people watch. And that is one of the best things about being out here, is people watching,” Brauer said. “Everybody’s so nice. They all want to come up and visit.”

They got lucky a few years later and a nearby spot on the main road past the Grandstand leading to the State Fair Center opened up, and they’ve been there ever since. Getzlaff said the easiest way to find them is to look for the large Tubby’s food tent, and they are nearby.

Getzlaff said they are one of the few food booths at the State Fair to offer breakfast. The Wife’s Kitchen is well known for its biscuits and gravy, and also offers breakfast burritos. For lunch, the taco in a bag is a big seller, and chicken strips are a popular appetizer.

“Another one my husband found at a food show is deep fried pickles,” Getzlaff said. “And they have taken off like a shot.”

Their second year at the State Fair they went through two cases of deep fried pickles, and during the 2010 fair it was up to 20 cases.

This year the State Fair has a Food Frenzy vendor competition to come up with something new and different, and the sisters have definitely thought outside the box for their entry – a deep fried brownie with whipped cream and chocolate syrup.

“Oh, they’re sickeningly good,” Getzlaff said. “They’re sinful.”

Getzlaff would love to win the contest, but even if she doesn’t, she’s still proud of being named the State Fair’s Food Vendor of the Year in 2008.

Almost as popular as the food is the name. Even with the old trailer, which was a simple lime green color with The Wife’s Kitchen in purple lettering, wives would constantly stand next to it while their husbands took a picture. The new purple truck with not only the name, but the company logo of a wife cooking in her kitchen should definitely kick things up a notch.

“Now I can’t wait to see what they do with the new truck,” Getzlaff said.

The truck has the business’s phone number, 833-4225, on the side, and Getzlaff said that was probably the best decision they made when having it designed. It was built in Florida, and when they were driving it back to Burlington people were calling left and right about catering their events. Brauer said as they were driving through Minneapolis, a man called and wanted The Wife’s Kitchen to cater his wedding.

The truck has more space than the trailer, air conditioning, a layout exactly how the sisters wanted and a propane generator for work at auction sites or other spots that don’t have utility access.

Getzlaff said she takes the truck to area events such as the recent July 4 air show in Minot, auctions and bike rallys. She also noted they had the truck on order before the Souris River flood last year brought in so many out-of-state food trucks to serve the post-flood rebuilding and oil industries. As a result, many of her customers in the field are surprised the business is local.

Getzlaff also said she was proud to give away much of the food ordered for the State Fair last year to local people who were rebuilding their homes and didn’t have easy access to food or water.

Brauer still lives in Prior Lake, Minn., with her husband, but is hoping to find accounting work in Minot and move here full time. In two years she plans to retire from that job and work in The Wife’s Kitchen with her sister full time. As for Getzlaff’s plans, she already is full time and wants to keep driving her truck as long as possible. She even has dreams of fielding a fleet of trucks if business is good enough. And this time she won’t even have to look to eBay to make that dream a reality.