Christopher Heyer grew up in a family business, but the business was not always for Kringle.
Instead, it was Green Tree Market, a small grocery store in Glendale, Wisconsin. It had the hallmarks of a family business—Christopher’s grandfather owned the business and had a big hand in management after his parents took over as owners. His uncle was the butcher. Christopher and his sisters helped with stocking shelves and carrying groceries to customers’ cars. A lot of the grocery store’s employees had been there for over 20 years. There was definitely a family feel with the business.
During that time, Green Tree Market had been selling Racine Danish Kringle. Racine Kringle started in 1981 in Racine, Wisconsin, where the business remains to this day. Back then, the business was mostly wholesale, selling their product through local grocery stores and the like.
“My parents had traveled to Racine many times and visited the local bakeries down there and loved the product,” Christopher says.
Things started to change in a big way during the mid-1980s.
“The Pick ‘N Saves of the world were coming into the world, so it forced our hand,” Christopher recalls. His parents closed Green Tree Market, but they didn’t do so without another opportunity lined up. The Heyers purchased Racine Danish Kringle in 1987, shortly after they closed their grocery store.
“For my parents, it was more like they had the product, they knew that they could improve it based on their visits down to Racine and the local bakers, and I think they really wanted to spread the love of the product with the people all over the state of Wisconsin.”
They’ve been owners ever since.
A Hole in the Middle
Christopher was 18 when his parents closed Green Tree Market. He was undergoing his own transition then: attending UW-Madison as an undergrad, then graduating a couple years later. While he helped his parents grow their new business for a few years in the early 1990s, he ultimately left to work in Chicago.
“I worked on the exchange floor for almost 20 years as a futures broker,” Christopher says. “I was the guy who was screaming in the bright-colored jacket and yelling with two phones in my ears and flashing orders into the pit of the exchange.”
When it comes to taking a break from the family business, Christopher’s time in Chicago was an extended one. But in 2012, his mother got sick and his father started to look into getting out of the business as much as he could.
“Dad said, if you’re going to take this over, you should do this now,” Christopher recalls.
The offer was really tempting. Instead of moving money around, Christopher would be working with a tangible object that was created by hand. Additionally, he would be returning to a family business, an environment in which he grew up. Taking over Racine Danish Kringle sounded like a more fulfilling job than a futures broker. So Christopher moved back to Racine to start working at the family business again.
Topped with Sweet Icing
Making and selling Kringle is different than managing a grocery store, but there’s one aspect that remains the same: working with family.
“I see these people who worked here forever. It’s pretty cool,” Christopher says. “There’s a lot of them who’ve been with us a long time. It’s good to know that people like to come to work every day. They must if they’re working that long.”
It’s not just the bakers and icers on the floor that are like family. Christopher, the current owner of Racine Danish Kringle, shares an office with his younger sister Marie.
“She’s got the bigger desk, I’ve got the smaller desk. I like it that way.”
Previous to working with her brother, Marie was a marketer in California for ten years. She moved back to Wisconsin to be with her parents and decided to stay and work at the family business.
On paper, Christopher is the president and Marie is the chief marketing officer. They work so closely together that their titles don’t mean much in the day-to-day. From the beginning, they’ve shared a common vision for the company and work together to make it a reality.
“I couldn’t do what I do without her,” Christopher says. “We both have common goals, what we want to do here with the company. It’s fun to see her every day. I didn’t have that for a long time.”