Moms Who Make Duluth is a monthly series featuring interviews with industrious, local women who are shaping the face of Duluth’s professional sphere while simultaneously raising their families. Duluth Moms Blog and Krenzen are delighted to highlight the positive impact working moms have on our community. We want you to get to know some of Duluth’s most notable women: professionals who balance work, community, civic engagement, and family.
Introducing... Vikre Distillery's Emily Vikre!
First, a correction. It’s technically Dr. Emily Vikre. Duluth’s favorite distiller and flavor genius has a PhD in food policy, proving that co-owning Vikre Distillery takes hard work, talent, and expertise in the field. Add mother of two and professional writer to her resume and it’s clear that Emily is a force to be reckoned with. We’re lucky that Emily and her family call Duluth their home and fill our bellies with the warmth of a good drink.
Emily, will you tell us a little bit about yourself?
It’s funny, but as I’ve gotten older, I’ve been growing more sure of myself and comfortable with who I am, but I find it harder to describe myself because I’m no longer playing out a packaged persona that I’ve developed, which is what I used to do.
So, about me. I’m an INFJ on the Meyers-Briggs type indicator, and I think that will actually tell a person a lot about me. A lot of my mental energy goes towards trying to deeply understand where other people are coming from and respecting how they operate in the world. The rest of the time I’m chasing fanciful thought bubbles. I’m always trying to balance the analytical and the artistic in me. I love dance and yoga and being outdoors and cooking and photography. Lake Superior is one of my great spirit guides.
My husband Joel and I technically met in Duluth, but really met in Boston where I did a PhD in food policy and he worked in global health. Then we decided to move back to Duluth to start the distillery. We have two sons. A four year old, and a two month old who we’re currently in the hospital with because he had some unexpected heart problems. It’s basically a parents’ worst nightmare but we are doing our best to embrace each moment, be a team, and be loving. We are so proud of our tough little baby and our generous, big-hearted four year old for how well they’re doing with all the change and uncertainty we are currently facing.
We also have a neurotic black dog named Squid who is our fur-baby. Someday I would like to have goats and beehives in our backyard.
On to the questions!
What advice do you wish you could have given to your younger self?
Calm down. And stop dwelling on things. It only weights you down.
What’s the biggest risk you’ve ever taken?
Probably starting a distillery!
Vikre Distillery has grown by leaps and bounds over the last few years. Can you give us any insight into what you’ve got cooking for the future?
We’re working on expanding our distribution to more states, and I also am working on some new – still secret! – products that I’m really excited about. But, the thing I’m most excited about is working to take further steps on reducing our environmental impact. I’m particularly interested in working with our distributors and exploring the potential for more environmentally responsible shipping. I don’t know how they’ll respond, but I’m excited to push them.
What is the most exciting thing about your job(s) right now? The most challenging?
I think the challenges are, in some ways, the most exciting thing about the job. There are certainly some days where I’m like, “today I DO NOT want to have to learn anything new. NO growth opportunities. Today I want things to be mundane and to know precisely what I’m doing.” But, ever day does bring a new challenge and growth opportunity and that keeps it really exciting. I have a culinary background for the product development that I do, but neither Joel nor I have any business background so it’s been a really journey learning some of the practical points of running a business.
The other most exciting thing about the job is the people we work with. I just freaking love the people we work with. I always look forward to seeing them, and to hearing what’s going on and how people are doing.
Of course, the industry itself is a challenging one to be in. Though craft distilling is expanding, the industry overall is highly consolidated. There are a few huge spirits companies that own almost everything, and that are acquiring a lot of the craft distilleries now. And there are a few huge distributors that control almost everything. So, it’s ever interesting to try to understand how you can motivate people when you’re tiny and they’re huge, and they don’t really have any need to work with you, and they are always expecting free things and time, which as a small business you simply don’t have.
What is your family’s favorite way to relax together?
We love going for walks in the woods together. Nearly every weekend we go for a family adventure in Hartley or along Tischer Creek, sometimes Lester. Then, because we have a pastry affliction, we go to a coffee shop for a treat. Espen, our four year old is a big fan of the donuts from Zenith Bread Project, and it’s coffee for Joel and me. In the summer you’ll probably find us hanging out at the beach, swimming. And in the winter we go skiing or on snowball throwing walks because our dog is obsessed with chasing snowballs. She won’t chase regular balls but she’ll chase snowballs all day, go figure.
What is your favorite drink to sip on during a long, cold, and snowy Duluth evening?
My go-to when the night is feeling particularly cold and dark and I need to enact operation “make things cozy,” is to stir up a Manhattan. And what’s funny is, even though I’m fanatical about measuring everything at work for accuracy, I never measure when I’m making myself a Manhattan.
Do you have any hidden talents? If so, what are they?
I discovered last winter that I have an amazing metabolism for Propofol, a type of sedative. I shattered my wrist last winter in a dramatic roller skating accident, and I had to go to the ER. When they were resetting it the first time, they had my hand in traction in this awful medieval torture looking device, and then my arm below the wrist was 2 cm over from where it was supposed to be and they had to pull on it and move it over to get it back into place. Yeah. Yikes. So, they were trying to sedate me so I would fall asleep and not be so bothered by it. And they kept giving me more and more propofol and apparently I just wouldn’t fall asleep. I stayed awake and kept yelling at people. They never did get me fully to sleep, but at least I don’t remember it. My husband told me about it afterward.
Tell us your biggest joy and most challenging part of motherhood.
It’s certainly both the hardest and most wonderful thing I’ve ever done. Every day it amazes me. For me it’s hard to do something where I’m constantly feeling like I have no idea what I’m doing. I tend to be the kind of person who likes to do a lot of reading and practicing by myself to get better at something before I actually try it, but with parenting that’s not an option. I mean, you can read all you want, but your child is still completely an individual and the situations that arise will be your own unique challenges. Plus, everything is a phase so as soon as you start feeling like you’ve finally got it down, things changes again. It can be so exhausting and overwhelming.
But, it’s such an honor to be the custodian of someone growing into their own utterly unique self. And it’s also amazing and terrifying to love someone so much, to have a portion of your heart walking around outside of you in the world. You have to protect it, and nurture it, but also let it go and become its own. I feel like having a kid blows you open. It’s a blessing to have the opportunity to care so deeply, to have emotions so raw. Also, kids are hilarious. Our four year old makes me laugh so hard every day!
What is your favorite cheesy movie?
I have watched the version of the movie Emma with Gwyneth Paltrow and Jeremy Northam in it more times than I care to admit.
Name a “hidden gem” North Shore spot.
I’m going to be selfish and not tell about our actual favorite spot because it’s our secret. But – and this isn’t really a hidden gem, but whatever – I absolutely love the beach in Grand Marais. It’s right in the middle of everything, but there’s something so pleasant about it. It always makes me smile through my whole body.
Thank you, Emily, for taking time to share pieces of yourself with us. We can’t wait to visit Vikre’s cocktail room again soon!
Join us over the next few months as we get to know some of Duluth’s most notable women. Do you know a mom who is making waves in the community? Speaking out? Pushing for change, or implementing new and innovative ways to better our schools, neighborhoods, government, or commerce and agriculture? Drop us a line at [email protected] and let us know!