It was an unusual switch in occupations. But he ate it up. And today, years later, hundreds of people are eating up the results.
Sandy Ostlund, West Fargo, was running a trucking company. But when he was 52, the company closed, and he was out of a job.
Finding another job at that age was difficult. Sandy looked and looked. Nothing clicked.
Then a friend and neighbor, Laurel Thoreson, had a suggestion, “Why don’t you open a doughnut shop?” he asked Sandy.
As a child, Sandy had learned from his mother how to make doughnuts in a cast iron pan on a coal-burning stove using her buttermilk doughnut recipe. Sandy loved them and loved making them.
He jumped at the idea and began looking for a place to have a shop. And right there in West Fargo, he found an empty building which once had housed a bakery. But that business had closed and the building was empty. Sandy borrowed some money (his son Mark believes it was $20,000 against his house), bought some equipment using advice on where to do so from Dixie Donuts in Detroit Lakes, Minn., and on Sept. 13, 1983, Sandy’s Donuts was open for business.
It was a mom-and-pop operation at first, with Sandy making the doughnuts at night and his wife Donna and a few employees selling them during the day. But after a week, they had to hire more people.
Sometimes Sandy and Donna were so busy they didn’t go home, but took naps in the back room in sleeping bags. Their son Mark left school so he could help.
“My mom was very heavily involved, and I doubt he would have succeeded without her,” Mark says.
Soon the Ostlunds needed more space, so in 2002 they moved to the old Hardee’s building a few blocks away.
At that time, Mark took over running the business. Donna retired. But Sandy, loving what he was doing, kept going, although he slowed down. But he still worked some every day.
“He was a really hard worker, which helped him make it through those first years through which every new business struggles,” Mark says.
“He was still working right up to the day he had a stroke in June 2008.”
Sandy never recovered and died Oct. 13 that year.
“I am the beneficiary of all of Dad’s hard work and commitment,” Mark says. “I have been involved with the doughnut shop for all but the first six months when I was in my second year of college. My job since he passed has been to not mess things up and ruin his legacy. I would have a lot of people mad at me if I did.
“My son Jeff graduated from North Dakota State University this spring with a degree in business. I am grooming him to take over the business from me. I feel I have done a good job growing the business, but my son will be a lot better than me.”
Of many trades
Now Mark contributes more information about his father.
Sandy, he writes, had done a lot of things before opening his doughnut shop. He worked on the family farm, worked for the Bethlehem Steel Mill, loaded train cars, preached at three country churches in the Tioga, N.D., area, owned and operated a service station in Tioga called Sandy’s Standard Service Station, baked bread at the Old Home Bakery in Fargo, drove trucks, drove bus for the University of Minnesota basketball team and, as mentioned, managed the trucking company.
“He was a little bit of a rebel in college and was kicked out of Briercrest College in Saskatchewan, Canada,” Mark says.
“He had to quit Old Home Bakery because of a flour allergy, yet he opened the doughnut shop” which, Mark says “had always been a dream of his.
“Losing his job at 52 was very tough on him. He got shingles that spring from the stress. He was very frustrated because no one wanted to hire a 52-year-old man. I am 54 and I would not want to be looking for a job now.
“Dad used to make those great buttermilk doughnuts at home in these two little counter-top fryers. They were kind of like the Presto Fryers you see now.
“His doughnuts were delicious, and he’d share them with the neighbors.
Lots of donuts
Today, Mark still runs Sandy’s Donuts, which opened a second location on Broadway in downtown Fargo in 2014 and is opening a third location at 4281 45th St. S., Fargo, soon. And its doughnut sales, like yeast products, continue to rise.
Back in the 1980s, Sandy’s made 15 kind of donuts; today it makes around 80. It uses about 160 tons of flour annually, along with 78 tons of sugar, 91 tons of Donut Fry, 27 tons of chocolate and 12 tons of Bavarian cream. It serves about 400 to 800 customers daily; they buy between 12,000 and 15,000 donuts each day.
Sandy’s has five trucks that make deliveries throughout the community.
The company also donates untold numbers of donuts to local shelters, the Salvation Army and the Ronald McDonald House, and it supports several community events.
All this from a company organized and named for a man who had been in the trucking business.
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