Locally-owned businesses offer invaluable spaces and services to small-town communities but are often forced to compete with corporations with no budget or manpower constraints. Add two years of …
Locally-owned businesses offer invaluable spaces and services to small-town communities but are often forced to compete with corporations with no budget or manpower constraints. Add two years of COVID restrictions and a challenging economy, and the challenges facing small business owners become daunting.
Still, Chrisman’s Carla Haga is doubling down, not only keeping the doors of Carla’s Country Coop open but expanding her operation to include food service.
Haga soft-launched the Country Coop’s restaurant on March 7, and was humbled by the positive response she received from the community.
“Our economy has made everyone reserved, but as far as outreach everyone has been really supportive,” said Haga. “We had a great soft launch.”
Currently, the Coop’s menu includes hearty, cold-weather dishes like lasagna, chicken noodle soup and beef stew.
As seasons change and her operation expands, Haga hopes to explore more menu options.
“I want to have more fun with it,” she explained. “I want to do the fun foods — walk-in, carry-out type foods.”
When warmer weather arrives, Haga hopes to introduce a new lineup of carnival food staples, including pulled pork, brisket, tacos, nachos and specialty ice creams.
Prior to opening the kitchen, Carla’s Country Coop specialized in home goods and gifts. Gifts, candles, shirts, flower arrangements and jewelry are all available to customers with free local delivery.
Jellies, jams, low-sugar candy, Amish noodles and canned vegetables also stock the shelves. Haga’s shop has plenty to offer for Edgar County residents, but her motivation for opening and operating the shop transcends the supplies she sells.
“It’s about offering service to the community,” she said. “I’m a very service-driven person.”
Haga dreamed of owning her own shop for 20 years before opening at her first location, a building across the square on Illinois Street, in August 2017.
“It was a great starter building,” she said.
Five years later, she purchased what was once Marilyn’s Deli and Desserts — a location with more room out front as well as a kitchen.
Now, with more space and new food offerings, Haga hopes to offer something unique and beneficial to her community, especially Chrisman’s youth.
“(This will be) a place to hang out, do homework or grab a pop,” she explained. “There’s no other place for (kids) to go if they need something.”
Originally from Danville, Haga moved to Bismarck to raise a family before landing in Chrisman. During her time as a bus driver, her occasional trips down Route 1 introduced her to the town she eventually called home.
“I’ve always loved Chrisman. I used to drive through and think ‘what a quaint town,’” Haga recalled.
After saving up money from her time behind the wheel, Haga is investing in the community she once admired from the outside. While the launch of her food service is an important step on her journey, her work is far from over.
Haga hopes to open additional dining space on the back end of the building, expand the menu to include offerings like pizza and open a food delivery service by incentivizing local students to start using apps like UberEats or DoorDash.
Others might look at Haga’s goals and feel overwhelmed by the time and effort required to reach them, but Haga’s approach is steady. Setting manageable goals and working toward the big picture one step at a time set Haga up for success — she hopes that others with big ideas for their small town do the same.
“(It’s about) not making it this overwhelming thing,” she explained. “They just see big old buildings.”
Haga encourages anyone looking to flip or remodel an old building to work on manageable, bite-size chunks.
“Work on one room at a time. When you get down to it it’s just four walls and a floor,” she said.
As evidenced by her aspirations and hard work, Haga’s objective is to do more than simply turn a profit — she wants to play a part in preserving the town she loves.
“We could save our small towns. If we can support a dollar store, we can support a small business and save our towns,” Haga remarked.
With a new menu, a head full of ideas and a supportive community at her back, Haga’s wish could someday become reality.
For more information and hours, visit https://www.loc8nearme.com/