Birthplace of Folgers’ ‘Mrs. Olson’ finally gets a coffee shop

Stanton, birthplace of Folgers' "Mrs. Olson" and home to coffee-themed water towers, is finally getting a coffee shop. (Photo courtesy of city of Stanton)

The town that gave us “Mrs. Olson” and her familiar Folgers coffee commercials is finally getting a coffee shop. 

Stanton has seen a $41.6 million burst of improvements since 2010, including a new library, preschool and gym, and is working on a new technology park and a trail system wrapping around the city and connecting to nearby Viking State Park. 

One of the latest projects: Stanton natives Dwayne and Terri Vennerberg plan to open Fika Coffee Hus, a Swedish-American coffee spot and bakery, in May. The southwestern Iowa town really never has had a full-blown “sip some coffee and have some pastries” kind of place. Which seems shocking given a coffee heritage so strong the town built two water towers, one resembling a coffee pot, the other a coffee cup.

“For the first time, Stanton will actually have their own coffee house and produce our own coffee,” said Kevin Cabbage, general manager and CEO of Farmers Mutual Telephone Co. “This seems like a natural. We should have had this a long time ago, but for some reason we haven’t.”

Fika (fee-kah) refers to a Swedish custom of having a coffee or tea break. 

The recent developments in Stanton, with the help of Iowa Economic Development Authority programs and private financing, were part of a review of small-town redevelopment at an Iowa Rural Development Council meeting Friday. 

Over the years, Stanton, population 689, has become known for its water towers. The giant coffee pot is now empty and serving as a city landmark and photo op. The coffee cup is still on a tower. Both have Swedish designs painted on them. 

Virginia Christine, who was born in Stanton in Montgomery County and later moved to California, spent 21 years appearing as “Mrs. Olson” in more than 100 commercials for the coffee brand. She praised the coffee as  “mountain grown” and served it with apple desserts. She died in 1996. 

Her Iowa hometown built the coffee pot water tower in her honor.

Stanton developers also are adding a restaurant, lodging and an events center. The town also is restoring nine downtown store facades.  

On the north edge of town near Iowa Highway 34, development officials have laid out several five-acre lots for a technology park, Cabbage said. Farmers Mutual is looking at office space there. An expanded child care center is planned, too. 

Fundraising is expected to begin soon, with site work beginning in the fall, Cabbage said. 

Forest City group adds apartments to help draw workers

Other small towns detailed plans for developments.

For example, Forest City, population 4,200, tried to interest developers in building apartments for workers at Winnebago Industries and other businesses, and couldn’t drum up interest. So development officials put together Westown Place Apartments themselves, said Beth Bilyeu, executive director of Forest City Economic Development Inc.

“The lesson is we don’t have to wait for someone else to save us,” Bilyeu said. 

An initial 24-unit building has already filled. A second building of the same size will be built perhaps next year, she said. 

Bilyeu said leaders were trying to address a workforce housing shortage that has varied as Winnebago, 3M, Waldorf University’s and other major employers expand operations. “We have great jobs and great wages. Why can’t we get enough people here?” Bilyeu asked. 

A consultants’ report found the city needed to add 74 housing units. 

A corporation set up to do the project sold 50 investment units for $25,000 each as part of the fundraising. The project was estimated at $7.1 million. The Iowa Finance Authority offered a workforce housing loan. The city borrowed the money at 1% and lent it to the private corporation at 2% interest.

Creston is working on a brewery and apartments. A Maquoketa developer opened a microbrewery.