By Heather Rothbauer-Wanish
Will Wanish, a 17-year old junior at Colfax High School, knows exactly what he wants to do when he finishes high school—manage his own business and build his passion of maple syrup. While some students may be thinking college or working for someone else, Will is an entrepreneur at-heart and has been shaping his future for at least four years—driven and dedicated to securing “liquid gold” from maple trees.
Four years ago, he began tapping maple trees with his uncle, Jon, in the Cadott area. Then, the next season, he decided to have about 50 tree taps in his yard. Each year since that time, he has added trees and modified his operation. When, in 2018, he decided that he wanted to focus on this as a business, he had a conversation with his mom and dad, Todd and Heather Wanish.
During that discussion, both parents told him that a business was completely different than a hobby and he needed to have a plan for funding, sales, and future opportunities. “We made a list of the equipment he would need, potential sales he could make, and how he would be able to make this actually work,” Todd said.
After reiterating that this was a long-term plan, Will decided to move forward and was able to secure a $30K loan from the Regional Business Fund. This allowed him to purchase an evaporator and a reverse osmosis machine. “Without the help of Chippewa County Economic Development Corporation and the Regional Business Fund, I wouldn’t have been able to get my business off the ground,” Will explained.
During the 2020 spring season, he cooked down approximately 22,000 gallons of sap into maple syrup. Then, COVID-19 became a pandemic and Will had to look beyond farmer’s markets and events for sales. He was able to get licensed and inspected, allowing him to sell his syrup via wholesale methods to stores. “Currently, my maple syrup is in approximately 100 stores throughout Wisconsin and Minnesota,” he said. Throughout 2020 and 2021, sales remained extremely strong and business kept expanding, as Will, Todd, and Heather went on-the-road to build sales and secure new accounts.
Then during the spring 2021 sap season, Will received a call from Boyd Huppert, a KARE-11 NBC reporter from Minneapolis. He featured Will and his business on The Land of 10,000 Stories, an award-winning feature on KARE-11. Within minutes of the story airing on television, hundreds of orders came through the Wanish Sugar Bush website and business to individuals catapulted. “The exposure we received from the KARE-11 story has been amazing—we are so appreciative that Boyd wanted to share Will’s story,” Heather said.
This spring, Will made approximately 1,000 gallons of maple syrup and is already planning for next year. He has hopes to add more taps, build his tubing system, enhance efficiencies, and potentially expand into other products that include maple sugar and maple cotton candy.
Will’s parents are proud of his accomplishments and know that he will be successful in whatever he chooses to do. “He is always on-the-go, enjoys working, and is not a teenage that has ever just sat around,” Todd said. “I couldn’t be more excited for what he has done so far; there aren’t many kids his age who can say that they have a successful business already,” Heather added.
And, Will is confident that he can make his business, Wanish Sugar Bush, a success story well into the future. “This is what I want to do and it’s not an option to not be successful; I know that I can continue to grow and build this business,” Will concluded.