Gwen Welk Workman moved to Texas from Minnesota in January 1985. She began her entrepreneurship at the age of 18. Three years into moving to Texas, she launched the Wooden Spoon in McKinney, where she catered and baked for parties. After 13 months in McKinney, she moved to Fairview Farms. After three years in Fairview, she moved to a two-story house at 1617 K Ave in Downtown Plano.
What brought you to start the wooden spoon?
When I came, there was no ethnic food. If you were Black, Hispanic or Asian, there was no other food. You couldn't even find a good bowl of soup. To find anything Scandinavian even was not in the picture. That October, we went to the state fair, and guess what we found: a Viking ship and the Norwegians. The first day of the state fair was always Norway day. One of the founders of the Norwegian Society of Texas had some connection with the state fair, and they had this special event stand. You'd have a big tent with dancers, food, beer and the happiness. People came from all over Texas to join in with the Norwegians. Then, we went to the Hall of State, and there was the Marine band in their stiff, starched red and white uniforms. They sang the American National Anthem, and up came the American flag. Then up went the Norwegian flag. One of the girls in the Norwegian group sang the Norwegian National Anthem. It was incredible. That went on for many years. The more I was involved with them, the more I began to see I can't be the only half Norwegian here in Texas. That's why I really started the Wooden Spoon. I craved it. I missed it. So I said I can't be the only one with that feeling. As you hear the comments from people who come in, it's exactly what I felt: "It's like coming home," "It smells so good. What're you cooking?" I think my the greatest compliment was to this child. She was about three years old. She came in with her great grandparents and said, "Hi Grandma." I said, "Hi, sweetie, come on over and give me a hug." She does and says, "Grandma, do you think I could have a piece of chocolate?" If you just look at that scenario, you have a child who came in this house and felt like it was grandma's house. She felt free enough to say that. Of course, her grandparents were mortified, but I told them they don't know what it does for me. This is the second time I was called grandma by child I don't know.
How did you bring more understanding of Scandinavian culture to Plano?
I had a lady say "If you build a good enough mousetrap, they'll find you. I think that really tells it. Word of mouth is the biggest way people have found it. Now with the internet, people will plug in a product. A couple came in today asking for Solo. May 17 is Norwegian Constitution Day, and that's one of the drinks they really, really want. So, we sold over a case to one guy and a bottle or two to others. I had to learn the holidays and the festivities. I never really wanted to do food. It was never in my vocabulary. I just wanted to do gifts because they'regood quality items. But you can't really have Christmas unless you have lingonberries and Swedish ham, potato sausage, and all of these other items. People would come in with a wrapper and askofI could order it. I would have no idea what it was, and I hadn't gone to Scandinavia until 10 years after I opened the Wooden Spoon. I'd ask them what the item was, and that's how I built my business. I would listen. I would order one case. If that sold really well, I would order two cases. Now when people come in asking if I can get something, I know whether I can or cannot.
How did you come to own one of the oldest houses in Plano?
Someone had told me about it and suggested I could run a bed and breakfast out of it. I told them no because I didn't want to run another 24-hour business. I drove around the back and prayed that if it was meant to be, it's meant to be.
It was originally called Mini Mansions. There was a Christian bookstore on one side and a used clothing store on the other side. The two daughters of the owner lived upstairs. When I found out it was the oldest home in Plano, I knew I would get a lot of advertising out of that.
One Christmas, Stella Olson started a cookie party. She lived in an apartment, but she alwayshad the party either at her son's or at her son's neighbor's, and she would invite the neighborhood, her church group and the Norwegians. She would bake for three months then have the party. She did that every year.
After we had gotten to know each other, we were both cookie monsters, and she said she didn't think she would be able to have her party because both houses were under construction. I told her she could have it here, and I had not had the house for long. I had just bought it. I didn't have a lot of stuff, but I gave her everything she needed that I had. That went on for maybe five or six years. At her last party, she made over 100 different kinds of treats. I promised her that every year, we would have a cookie party.
We had to do things a little differently, because I can’t bake that much for everybody. Traditionally, a Scandinavian woman makes seven kinds of cookies. I put those upstairs.
Then I invite other people to come with their trays. It has to have sugar.That's the only requirement. It does not have to be Scandinavian. It can be anything so long as it has sugar. Then in the other room, I hire people to stand and make cookies. You come in and help yourself to everyone's cookies, then you can watch people, get recipes and tips and anything you need. there's no time limit or limit on cookies. It's a day of sugar and fellowship.
What's been most rewarding about operating the Wooden Spoon?
Seeing the joy on people's faces. Now, since I've been doing it for 35 years, I see generations. A young man came in and said, "You probably don't remember me, but I used to come in here when I was 11 years old." He was a big, tall man. I told him, "Oh, you haven't changed a bit." He remembered coming in here and how much he loved that. Now that he's older, he had his son with him. I see that. Somewhere along the line, something that happened in here, whether it's something he bought or someone he met, he had a deep connection, and watching people be happy is really rewarding. People come in because they miss their family, and they can find something nostalgic here. If you're Norwegian, it's the Norwegian store. If you're Swedish, it's the Swedish store.
What's been most challenging?
I don't know. It's been a great journey. I don't think I've had any real challenges. I have this house for sale, and I'm downsizing. I have a huge turtle collection. If I don't have 2,000, I don't have one. I decided to have a turtle raffle, so I made little raffle tickets, and everyone signed one and came in. I told them that on Good Friday, I would have a drawing. I asked my friend, Kay how many we had, and she said 60. I told her to start calling them because everyone is a winner. We did that throughout Easter. I now have the joy of handing my collection off to someone else.
How long have you lived in Plano?
What's your favorite childhood memory?
I think being a part of a big family and living in a rural area where we could go out in the woods, we could pick berries, grow a garden, we had the beautiful lakes, we were free. We always had something to do and to look forward to. In the spring, we could take a walk in the woods and see the waterfalls and flowers beginning to blossom. Each season, you know which flowers were blooming. then in the summer, there would be an influx of people because we were in a tourist area. You'd see people you hadn't seen for a year. Then would come all of the vegetables. Growing up in a big family, we all took part in it. When fall came, my dad would smoke meats because that's the time when they butchered. He would smoke ribs and sausages. Being German, he conjured up his own recipes for sausages. We also had snow and northern lights. We never ran out of things to do. We were a small community but we all neweach other.
What are your hobbies?
I love to read, and I love the arts. I visited the symphony Saturday night and a couple Sundays before that. I was down in Richardson for that. I do some pencil drawing, though I haven't done much of that lately because I've been writing. I've written five books, and I keep track of friends.
What books have you written?
I've written “Magnus the Troll”. Those are three children's books. Then I have my cookie journal. I wrote it, had 1,000 copies made, sold that out. A couple years later, I revised it then had it book bound instead of a spiral and had colored pictures in it. It's a much nicer book.
What's something about you that readers would never guess to be true?
I think I'm an open book. What you see is what you get. I love this when I go to the airport, and they say, "Do you have any implants in your knees or hips?". I'll tell them, "No, what you see is what you get."
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