Snow River Products LLC, Transition from Whiskey to Cutting Boards
Article and photos by Mike Monte
Plant Manager Brian Sinclair displays two of the state-shaped cutting boards, with Louisiana on his right, and
if you live in the Lake States, you should be able to recognize Wisconsin in his left hand.
Crandon, Wisconsin has a wood-working plant that turns hardwood into high-rate cutting boards. Snow River has been operating in Crandon since 2002 in a building on the north side of town that has an interesting past.
Back in 1932, prohibition had officially ended. Crandon, like many towns across the nation, didn't necessarily go dry. Making whiskey went from the big distilleries to backwoods occupations, and Crandon had a leg up on many other communities. Many of the early settlers were from northeast Kentucky, and making whiskey was as common as making coffee. They had been in the whiskey business for years in Kentucky, learned to make good stuff, and turned their talents to supplying the illegal whiskey market. Unlike many places, Crandon area whiskey, at least a sizable amount, could be called “top shelf.” The whiskey technology had followed them to the Northwoods.
The old distillery building when it was a new distillery building, and the way it looks today.
This shot was probably taken in the thirties, when whiskey was the product. The man on the far left is Emil Zinser-plant manager, Everett Beam-the guy with the whiskey formula from the Jim Beam family, and Forrest Himes, a local logger, sawmill owner and lumber retailer
With the end of prohibition, which didn't work very well, one of Crandon's big-time moonshiners and bootleggers, Black Gambill, started a distillery, a legal distillery. He made whiskey for Four Roses, and brought a good still man up from Kentucky named Everett Beam. Everett learned a lot from the family business, Jim Beam.
All went well until WWII, when the federal government ordered them to stop the whiskey business and start manufacturing alcohol for the war effort. After the war, the whiskey trade was resumed, but the four year wait to age the whiskey put financial pressure on the business and they closed in 1950.
There was no more whiskey, area cattle and pigs likely suffered alcohol withdrawal when their diet of whiskey mash was cut off, and a very nice brick building sat gathering dust. By 1955, a plywood manufacturing business was put in the building, but after a few years it faded, and the Bemis Corporation from Sheboygan took over the facility in 1965, and a number of wooden products were produced, including toilet seats and bowling pins. They sold out to Snow River, and they are still making sawdust.
Snow River specializes in wooden cutting boards. For years, they made the wooden cutting boards for Weber grills, but like a lot of products in this country, that manufacturing went to China. The Chinese do use North American maple, but the logs are sent to China. One of the reasons for this was the switch by Americans to gas grills from charcoal. In Europe, charcoal and the famous Weber “pot” grills are the way people cook out. So the majority of Weber grills, with American maple attachments, are sold in Europe.
Some of the larger cutting boards are equipped with legs, and this machine gang drills holes for the legs.
A composite bowl soon to be shaped
Different markets were sought, and producing a large selection of wooden cutting boards was the route chosen. There is actually a very wide assortment of cutting boards made at Snow River. If you would like a board in the shape of Wisconsin, you can order that board from Snow River. Boards in the shape of Louisiana were manufactured in the plant, as well as some Texas shaped boards.
Kohler Corporation contracts Snow River for boards, as does Bed, Bath & Beyond, and they do a big business with Wal-Mart. Currently, there have been contacts from other companies looking for custom boards, and there is hope that these calls will come to fruition.
Snow River is also capable of making custom cutting boards for special events and occasions. Because of their ability to laser etch text and art on the boards, and to make custom boards in small quantities, it is an option for people or organizations to have a unique gift to present to guests or for small shops to handle with custom art and their name on the board. How many do you have to order? They will make a custom order down to 25 boards.
Multiple cutting boards are shaped at a time, and it doesn't take long.
A variety of the cutting boards manufactured by Snow River.
Another product made at Snow River are the wooden bowls. This is a bowl turned from composite pieces that come out of the turning and sanding machinery looking very classy. Lately, they have made some custom I-pad stands, and are more than willing to do more.
Plant manager Brian Sinclair added that they don't just do maple cutting boards. They also do cherry and walnut combinations, and, he added, they might be pretty, but they are very practical and usable.
Sinclair said they are always open for orders to increase their business, and they are there to cater to the needs of the customer. If you have an idea for a wooden product, by all means contact Sinclair.
Another interesting note about Snow River is that they are making these attractive wooden products out of left-overs. What this means is that they are utilizing the pieces cut by other manufacturers for their product, and the ends of things like cabinet doors that would normally be thrown in a chipper or even a landfill, are brought to Snow River and turned into attractive, practical and worthwhile products. Sinclair calls it “re-purposing.”
Plant manager Brian Sinclair is an old veteran at manufacturing products from wood. He is from the state of Maine, and he found his way to Wisconsin to run U.S. Stick, a company in Rhinelander, Wisconsin that made ice cream bar sticks, corn dog sticks, paint stirrers and more. From U.S. Stick, he made his way to Laona to work with Superior Flooring, and stayed there until W.D. Flooring bought them out. The next step was to Merrill, Wisconsin, where he worked in metal manufacturing. This didn't work for him. It seems that he caught the disease known well by many in the Lake States. He suffered from “Sawdust in the Blood.” I have been told there is no cure for this, and Brian found that out when he took a job with the pet supply retailer, Foster & Smith. The logical step was to come to Crandon and run Snow River.
The laser engraved boards allow for a wide range of creativity for the customer.