When the former owner of Moorhead-based Salad Makers Inc. won the Minnesota lottery and closed shop, Tom Jacobson bought the business.

That was in 1999, said Jacobson, a former music teacher who later spent 30 years in the produce business, working for wholesale food distributor Nash Finch Co., Buttrey Foods and several restaurants.

Jacobson worked in the Buttrey Foods produce department while attending college.

"Frankly, it was more lucrative than teaching. I got into the management end of it then," he said.

Purchasing Salad Makers was a good decision, he said.

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"I always wanted to be in business. I'd been looking for quite awhile. This was a good fit," said Jacobson.

Q: What is Salad Makers?

We cut up fresh produce for restaurants, grocery stores and distributors.

We have a retail line, and we also have a restaurant and food service line.

Nothing is warehoused. Everything is cut fresh to order and delivered the same day or the next morning.

We get orders in by 10 o'clock in the morning.

Is it just lettuce that you process?

No, the name is sort of a misnomer. We actually have 400 different items.

Like burger toppers - you've got your lettuce, onions, salsa, tomato - all in one container. You fry your burger and you put it on.

We have all the food service lines - cut celery, cut carrots, cut bok choy - that kind of stuff.

We do a grilling vegetable that has potatoes, carrots, onions and peppers. Just put in foil and put it on the grill.

We have kabob vegetables. We do a lot of salsa.

All different fruits - cantaloupe, honeydew, watermelon, pineapple, mangoes, strawberries, grapes.

We grow our own sprouts here.

We do lettuce and salads. That's actually very little of what we do.

One of our better sellers is what we call an onion trio - diced yellow, red and green onions already in a container. People make omelets with it, things like that.

We also have a pepper trio - diced yellow, diced green, diced red peppers.

Who are some of your retail customers?

All three grocery stores in town: Hornbacher's, Cash Wise and Sunmart carry our products in their produce department.

We also distribute to Nash Finch, Super Valu, Russ Davis Wholesale out of Wadena, Minn.

Are any of your customers institutional?

I do MeritCare.

I do a lot of schools.

How about restaurants?

I don't do that many local anymore. The franchisees have to buy from the franchise.

I'm the only supplier in town that does this, but I have 17 competitors because every new franchise brings in their own.

Have you expanded?

We've grown. We're doing six times the business we were when we opened.

We added on here three years ago and went to one shift. We were at two shifts.

We doubled our size to about 12,000 square feet.

How big an area do you serve?

We deliver to four states: Minnesota, North Dakota, Iowa and Montana.

Is everything shipped to those states?

Everything is shipped in refrigerated trucks. We will ship within a 100-mile radius on our own trucks. Food distributors take it out beyond that.

How many people do you employ?

Twenty-eight, mostly full time.

We get a lot of people that are former cooks or waitresses.

We use a lot of Somalian help.

I haven't advertised for help for over six years, and my turnover is very low.

Readers can reach Forum Business Editor Craig McEwen at (701) 241-5502