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Published November 09 2012

Local entrepreneur Flach finding success at mall with local shops that only look corporate but offer products in demand

FARGO - To look at the glowing red sign above Rising Bread Co. and the generally polished look of the place, you might think it was one of those slick corporate outfits so common at United States malls.

But it’s not.

This eatery in the food court of the West Acres Shopping Center is owned by local entrepreneur Tony Flach. In fact, the 41-year-old owns three shops in the mall.

Flach’s a local guy making a go of it in an environment that’s more associated with chain stores than mom-and-pop shops.

Having that professional look is especially important when you’re doing business in the mall “so you can compete with the brand names,” Flach said. “You have to look like you belong there, you know, you have to look like you know what you’re doing.”

His Lighthouse Coffee shop in the food court also has that polished look, with the stand made to look like – appropriately enough – a lighthouse. And his Cinamen Roll Co./Coolbird Creamery ice cream store also fits in with the mall style.

But it’s about more than looks for Flach.

“We always go on the premise that your product has to be outstanding,” said Flach, who majored in psychology and minored in sociology at North Dakota State University. “We have to try to develop or make the best product possible, better than anybody else’s. And then it’s service. ... And then you have to have the right product that people want to buy, too.”

Flach got started doing business at West Acres about 17 years ago when he and his mother opened a Mrs. Fields cookie shop. There’s still a Mrs. Fields at the mall, but Flach isn’t involved with it.

Flach opened Lighthouse a decade ago and Rising Bread a few months after that. The Cinamen/Coolbird portion of Flach’s mall business triumvirate – quadrumvirate if you count the ice cream and cinnamon shop as two – is the youngest of his mall businesses, having opened about three years ago.

As is typical of the shopping mall industry, local shops at West Acres account for significantly less retail space than do corporate stores and chains.

General Manager Rusty Papachek said having locally owned businesses at the mall continues to be important to the owners. Local businesses fill specialized retail niches for West Acres, rounding out the mix of tenants, he said. He believes the connection to the community is important.

“We have a shopping center that has roughly 275,000 square feet of retail space inline – not counting department stores – where you’re not going to be able to go out and fill it with all corporate stores so then you have local stores that kind of fill that niche,” Papachek said. “And, you know, to us, it’s just creating that experience for the customers, trying to create something unique so you don’t come here and this mall is like every other mall around the country,” he said.

Flach said the mall offers a herd of feet for local businesses like his.

“You get foot traffic,” he said. “And that’s what we need is foot traffic to sell our products.”

“The main thing is we can deliver is traffic to their store,” Papachek said.

That means more than 7 million shoppers through the doors annually.

“There’s no other place in town that’s going to deliver that kind of traffic,” Papachek said.

While Papachek said it costs more to rent space at the mall, that cost is “predicated on how much business you can do.”

“Rent is in line with where the sales are,” he said.

Flach tries to keep rent down by operating his ice cream/cinnamon roll shop and Lighthouse in relatively small spaces.

But that small space at Coolbird is home to a pretty big surprise. They serve made-to-order ice cream frozen with liquid nitrogen at 320 degrees below zero. It’s fun just watching workers make it. Steam rises from the kitchen mixer bowl as the liquid nitrogen is worked through the creamy ice cream recipe.

It freezes fast, store manager Erik Lebak said, so there’s “no chance for an ice structure to form.”

“Where else can you watch your ice cream being made?” he said.

The result is a stunningly smooth dessert.

“It’s a great show and a great product,” Lebak said.

As for the cinnamon roll dough, that comes from Flach’s grandmother’s sweet dough recipe. Flach said his first concern is the quality of the product and then the price point later.

Rising Bread manager Jeremy Leichtenberg said that when they’re working on a new product they’ll try it “dozens of times” before they’re satisfied it’s ready to go.

The work Flach does is more than just about business. The names of his shops reflect his Christian faith. Cinamen Roll Co. has “amen” in the name. Rising Bread Co. refers to the resurrection of Jesus. And Lighthouse refers to the idea of “the light of the world” and being a light to others.

“It kind of just reminds you of why you’re here and why you’re doing business and how you’re supposed to treat people,” Flach said.

Readers can reach Forum reporter Shane Mercer at (701) 451-5734

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