The brilliantly bright colors, smells and tastes of Colombia are displayed throughout the new Taste of Colombia store now open in downtown Wadena.

Owners and staff of the business celebrated with a soft opening Wednesday, Feb. 24, wearing the bright colors of the Colombian flag, Gladys Kanis in yellow, Miriam Miller in blue and her daughter Perla in red. Sisters Gladys and Miriam, store owners, were excited to finally show the renovated space out along with the large assortment of goodies on display.

The shelves are filled with Colombian market goods including chocolate bars, spices, dehydrated foods, chilled soda, frozen foods, and of course Colombian coffee. There's even handmade hats, necklaces and handbags made by the indigenous Arhuaco people of Colombia.

Handmade hats and sombreros are on display for sale inside Taste of Colombia.
Michael Johnson/Pioneer Journal
Handmade hats and sombreros are on display for sale inside Taste of Colombia. Michael Johnson/Pioneer Journal

Gladys was excited to be able to offer such goods in Wadena knowing that there are populations of Hispanics in the Long Prairie and Perham areas perhaps longing for some traditional foods. She said offering these foods will be a draw to them and to those less accustomed to the foods. For those who've never had foods of South America, this store is a treasure trove of new tastes at affordable prices.

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Another unique resource the business is offering includes copying, scanning and soon will be able to send money orders to South America. Perla said having an option like this was useful to her and she hopes useful to others as she has struggled with finding resources while completing online courses.

"Why not here?" Gladys said. She feels confident that bringing a bit of Colombia to Wadena is going to go over well. Wadena Economic Development director Dean Uselman was also excited about the new business venture, which is the first to occupy the totally remodeled building at 206 South Jefferson.

“I think the Taste of Colombia will build on what we’ve already got with many of the boutiques and the great downtown we’ve got,” Uselman said.

The sisters came to America in pursuit of the American dream of operating their own business. They are also learning English and doing quite well with that. Uselman said the sisters came to him with the idea and they were thrilled to see their dream become a reality. The sisters gave thanks to everyone that helped to make it happen.

Wadena Economic Development director Dean Uselman offers a toast to the owners of the Taste of Colombia business during a soft opening Wednesday, Feb. 25, in Wadena.
Michael Johnson/PIoneer Journal
Wadena Economic Development director Dean Uselman offers a toast to the owners of the Taste of Colombia business during a soft opening Wednesday, Feb. 25, in Wadena. Michael Johnson/PIoneer Journal

Kanis and Miller began preparations for opening the Taste of Colombia in October 2020. The building was at one point a hardware store, evident from the large stained-glass "HARDWARE" sign above the stores entrance. Over the past year, local contractors and the Todd-Wadena Community Corrections Sentence to Serve work crews renovated the incubator space from preserving the signage to sandblasting the brick and sandstone and adding new windows in the upper portion. Uselman said without the STS crews, the project would have been “financially unfeasible.” The space slowly garnered interest after the Development Authority took on the project, including four other businesses in February, according to Uselman.

Uselman said the building was at one point a huge eyesore and perhaps the ugliest storefront downtown. It's now far from it. With the goal of the Development Authority accomplished for this incubator space, Uselman said the board has not decided on future spaces but that lots in the industrial park could be next.

“There’s a possibility that we may see some others but we’re kind of running out of storefronts in downtown Wadena. The empty ones are filling up and so that’s really great news,” Uselman said.

The Taste of Colombia hours were not completely set in stone, however, the group planned to be open from 10 a.m. to 7:30 p.m. Monday- Saturday at first to gauge what times customers preferred to visit. Sunday hours may also be added.