Photo by Hibbard Studio, courtesy Minnesota Historical Society

New life for old RyKrisp factory

Former cracker plant transforming into hub for American-made products

By Kevyn Burger
Wednesday, January 13, 2016

The street in front of what was the world’s only RyKrisp factory is lined with work vehicles from various construction companies. Inside, workers are transforming the former cracker plant into a hub for entrepreneurs, with a focus on businesses that create American made products.

Detractors often opined that RyKrisp tasted like sawdust, so perhaps it’s fitting that Woodchuck USA, a company making wooden products, will be the main tenant in the remodeled space.

“We had been looking for the right building for our business and others that are also committed to building the economy with American-made products,” says Ben VandenWymelenberg, the 25-year old founder and CEO of Woodchuck USA.  

VandenWymelenberg says he is one of four partners who recently closed on the 80,000 square foot space in the Marcy Holmes neighborhood in southeast Minneapolis. His three-year-old company will occupy about half of the space, with plans to move operations into the former factory by March or April. 

Other tenants will begin working in the renovated space around the first of February. 

“We’re renting to a range of companies that will be a good fit for the culture of the building. We’ll have a high-energy environment,” he adds. “We’re in a prime location, close to highways and transportation and to the U.”

VandenWymelenberg was studying architecture at the University of Minnesota when he started making wooden phone cases. Woodchuck USA now creates thousands of accessories using American-sourced wood; they’re sold at Target, Best Buy and hundreds of specialty shops. Sustainability is part of the company's branding; it plants a tree for every product that it sells.        

Woodchuck USA is in what its founder calls “a growth mode.” The company currently employs 27, but there will be adequate space in the 94-year-old white stucco building for expansion.

A Swedish immigrant perfected the RyKrisp recipe in Minneapolis around the turn of the last century; the brand was sold and resold several times. Starting in 1922, the crackers were mixed, baked and packaged at the plant that’s now being renovated. The crackers were produced there continuously until RyKrisp’s final owner, food giant ConAgra, discontinued making them last March. 

“Over the next few years, as we create this hub and incubate it, we’ll create ten times the number of jobs that were in this building when RyKrisp was made here,” pledges VandenWymelenberg.