I can’t wait to tell you all about Will Wanish and his entrepreneurial spirit! Will’s mom, Heather Rothbauer-Wanish, and I both belong to Polka Dot Powerhouse (Please excuse the shameless plug). Polka Dot Powerhouse is a connection company for women. At one of our meetings Heather was sharing with the group her teenage son was starting his own company. Will wanted to start a Sugar Bush, tap maple trees and make maple syrup. Including local products in my breakfast dishes helps me to support other area small businesses. I just had to check this out!
First I let Heather know I would be interested in purchasing 4 quarts of the maple syrup. Purchasing by the quart insures the syrup stays as fresh as possible until we open the next bottle. I asked if I could come out & and take a few photos of the operation. So, one Friday afternoon I had a couple of free hours (thanks to the Covid-19 social distancing) and headed out to Wanish Sugar Bush. It turns out they’re located just 20 minutes from Inn on Lake Wissota, we can’t get much more local than that!
How Will got started
As I pulled into the driveway the first thing I saw was the brand new shed with a very cool metal sign hanging on the side of it welcoming me to Wanish Sugar Bush. What the heck? This kid has been in business for just a couple of months and he already has a new pole shed and this cool sign?!! I couldn’t wait to meet him and find out more. Not long after I pulled in the driveway Heather and Will came out of the house to greet me. I have to admit, when Heather was talking about her teenage son starting his own business, I was expecting to meet a 17 or 18 year old. This young man is just 15 years old.
Initially Will was shy. After some prodding from his folks, he warmed up and was excited to share his new business venture with me. I asked how he became interested in starting his own sugar bush. He said he has been helping his uncle tap 200-300 trees since he was 12 years old. Most 15 year old kids would be happy to work for their uncle and earn a few bucks on the side. It turns out Will loves to work and has a great understanding of what it takes to run a small business like a sugar bush. Only, he didn’t start out with 300 taps. Will wanted to make as much syrup as possible. This meant a pole shed and expensive equipment. No wood-fired boiler for Will. He wanted a reverse osmosis system to eliminate a good portion of the water content from the sap before they boil it down. This shortens the amount of time required to boil down the sap into syrup.
Support from Family and Friends
So how does a 15 year old finance such an operation? With a business loan of course. I can’t imagine there are many 15 year old’s who would qualify for a business loan. Will isn’t most kids and this kid has a plan. More importantly, support from his parents. They were able to secure a small business loan from a local non-profit who offers low-interest loans to area businesses. This meant Will had to have a business plan put together & sit in front of that board explaining his vision, how he would generate income and how his company would benefit the Chippewa Valley.
With the help of nearby family and friends they have run over 19,000 ft of line to tap maple trees and collect syrup. So far this season, they have processed over 15,000 gallons of sap. They won’t collect all of that syrup themselves. Will estimates purchasing at least 1,000 gallons from several different suppliers. Apparently there are folks who have a hobby of collecting sap but have no interest in converting the sap to syrup. Negotiating skills are required for this. The purchaser and the supplier need to agree on the sugar content and the quality of the sap which will determine the price paid to the supplier. Having this extra sap available to them will be a big help this first year so they can make enough syrup to send to market. I asked Will how much sap he could convert in one day. He said the day prior they had boiled down 2400 gallons and were hoping to do at least 1,000 gallons the day I was there.
Will took a few minutes to show me a pump motor he created so they could pump the sap through even more lines. The pump they had purchased was quite expensive, over $4,000.00. So, to save money he made two more pumps that streamline their operation by saving countless hours of hauling sap from the trees to the tank. I can’t begin to tell you how impressed I am by this young man. It will be fun to follow up with him in 5 years to see what else he has accomplished. Inn on Lake Wissota is proud to offer his maple syrup.
We hope you’ll come join us some day to sample their syrup and of course our fantastic view of Lake Wissota. Enjoy the comfort of the Inn no matter the time of year. Delight in the gourmet breakfasts we serve each morning. Until then, stay healthy and safe! We hope to greet you soon as one of our guests.