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Why I Built My Business in Owatonna, Minnesota

Three company leaders share why they chose to live and build their businesses in Owatonna.

By Rebecca Treon on January 19, 2023

OTB Cafe in Owatonna, MN
Courtesy of Owatonna Partners for Economic Development

Entrepreneurs need a certain amount of pluck to go into business for themselves, but the environment they choose is just as important. Does the location offer a supportive infrastructure for start-ups, a good pool of local talent and a network of other entrepreneurs?

And since they’ll likely live there, too, are there affordable housing options, amenities like museums, parks and trails, and great options for after-hours fun?

Business owners are flocking to Owatonna, Minnesota, where they can find a balance between work and play. Minnesota’s state motto is “L’etoile du Nord,” or “Star of the North,” and in Owatonna, entrepreneurs will find resources to help them follow their own North Star.

We talked with three entrepreneurs behind thriving local businesses about why they chose to launch and grow their dream businesses in Owatonna. Here’s what they had to say — and why you might want to join them.

Nicole Arndt, founder of Urban Loft

Established in 1997
Employees: 7

Nicole Arndt, founder of Urban Loft in Owatonna, MN
Nicole Arndt

A 3,000-square-foot retail store that includes home decor, men’s and women’s clothing and accessories, gifts, gourmet foods and children’s and baby items, Urban Loft is a fixture in historic downtown Owatonna.

“I first started out in 1997 and moved into this space four years ago, and last year we were able to expand into the space next door,” says Arndt. “I went to school for fashion merchandising and worked in local Owatonna retail shops and loved it. I always knew I wanted to do something on my own, so I did.”

What do you love about doing business in Owatonna?

I did think about moving away at one point, but I settled down and had kids and decided to stay here. Downtown Owatonna, especially, is a really exciting place to be a part of right now. They are doing streetscaping to improve the walkability and visual appeal, there are lots of neat old buildings and Central Park, and there’s a new apartment complex and hotel. Retail is booming — I hope it continues to grow and continues to make a great environment for many years.

What’s next for Urban Loft?

I’m hoping that we can continue regrouping after COVID. We extended the store this year and I’d like for things to level off. We’ve grown a lot over the past few years and I’d like to continue to tweak things. I’m also focusing on adding more events, like Third Thursday, where we will have snacks and drinks in the store, demos, and bring food trucks, while we stay open late. People love to make it an outing, like a girls night out that they can plan on coming to shop, then go get dinner downtown and make an evening of it.

Best local coffee shop?

I love Central Park Coffee to just go get something to eat and get some work done. It’s such a cute little place and a good coffee shop is the heart of any downtown.

Stacy Wilson, owner of OTB Cafe (Old Town Bagels)

Established in 2001; under current ownership since 2015
Employees: 20

OTB Cafe in Owatonna, MN
Courtesy of Owatonna Partners for Economic Development

OTB Cafe, the new name of the expanded Old Town Bagels in downtown Owatonna, is a favorite not just locally but across the state — it was named the Best Bagel in Minnesota by WCCO 4 News in Minneapolis. Offering more than a dozen bagel flavors daily, they also offer rotating soups, a lengthy menu of sandwiches and specialty drinks.

You’re the most popular bagel shop and cafe in Owatonna and you recently expanded. Can you tell me about that?

My husband and I bought Old Town Bagel in 2015 and got the business going. Our old space before we relocated was 1,700 square feet, including the kitchen and dining area — it was so tiny we couldn’t have staff and bakers in at the same time, so it was very limiting and improving sales was a struggle because of that. Our new spot gives us 3,000 square feet of space — the new kitchen is as big as the old restaurant — so it’s much easier to work in. We’re baking at capacity just to keep up with the demand. That all goes back to the community; they’ve been wonderful to us and such an asset to us.

What else has changed with the expansion?

We had school aged kids when we expanded, and their friends would come in to hang out and started calling it “OTB” and we decided to keep that and add “café” to the name, because we’re much more than a bagel shop — we have 24 flavors of hand-scooped ice cream, a full bar of specialty coffee drinks, 6 or 7 types of soup, a full menu of hot and cold sandwiches, we have flatbreads and make two featured artisan breads each week, a dessert case, and the bagels, which sell out. We couldn’t do all that without the community.

Where do you go after hours to wind down?

We have a couple of wonderful little breweries that are a great addition to the community that both opened after (the pandemic) and we frequent those because our friends are the owners. We have a new hotel, so sometimes we go to the bar in there and we’re about to get a new restaurant that we’re excited to check out. We have been in Owatonna for 22 years and it’s become our home — we’re invested in the community and want to be involved and be supportive. What I love is that the city has been fantastic about pouring money into revitalizing the downtown area and bringing it back to life and there’s a lot going on.

What do you love about owning a business in downtown Owatonna?

What makes it different is that the downtown community is super-supportive of each other — like, if you don’t want to eat at my place, I can give you the name of three other local places to check out. We all advertise together and lift each other up. We aren’t as competitive as some places — there’s plenty of business for everybody.”

John Carkoski, general manager of Revol Greens

Founded in 2017
Employees: 110

John Carkoski, general manager of Revol Greens in Owatonna, MN
John Carkoski

Revol Greens is revolutionizing the way produce is grown. Using state-of-the-art greenhouse technology and innovative agricultural practices, Revol has figured out how to grow organic, nutrient-dense produce using sustainable practices, at any time of year in any climate (including a Minnesota winter). They now have additional greenhouses in California, Georgia and Texas.

What do you love about doing business in Owatonna?

Owatonna is a quintessential Midwestern town that has grown into an influential Midwestern city over the years due to its unique location. We are less than an hour from Minneapolis and St. Paul. I-35 runs into Des Moines and Kansas City, and we’re not far from I-90 that runs to Madison, Milwaukee, Chicago and Sioux Falls. We have access to the main arteries that serve the Midwest.

Most importantly, Owatonna comes with hard-working and loyal associates who are dedicated to our mission of revolutionizing greens and are proud to work for Revol Greens. I can say that I am very proud to call all of them my co-workers and look forward to continuing our growth side by side with everyone we have here.

What’s a compliment you’ve heard about your business that made you feel good?

I know myself and a lot of associates here take pride in the fact that we work at Revol Greens. Everyone talks about how much it means to them when they are out in town with their Revol shirt on and have multiple people tell them how much they love Revol Greens. When I go to the store and see how much our displays have grown over the years it’s very telling of the confidence our customers have in our product; there may not be words expressed but it’s a great feeling knowing that were making a positive impact with our customers and consumers.

What’s next for your business?

Here in Owatonna, we see growth on the horizon and have already started looking at what additional acreage and operational space would look like as demand continues to increase.

What’s the best place for happy hour in Owatonna?

We enjoy a quick happy hour at the Timber Lodge Steakhouse right down the street from us, or if the occasion calls for a more formal setting, Torey’s is one of our favorites. Luckily for us, the lettuce at both places is top notch!

Where do you love to go for a coffee meeting?

The best coffee and bagels in the area is undoubtedly at Old Town Bagels in Owatonna. It’s hard to beat the breakfast melt with a cup of coffee.”

This article was sponsored by the Owatonna Partners for Economic Development.

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