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ARCHIVED  January 1, 1996

Mr. Pancake pushes expansion into retail market

KERSEY – Used to be that a person could step out into the new day and expect to find a newspaper, a bottle of milk and a bag of pancake mix on the doorstep.

Now the people of Kersey have to settle for two out of three. The pancake mix man doesn’t do house calls anymore. But he’s still around.

Dale Dilka owns Stehman’s Wheat Products, a wholesale milling company that produces the popular Mr. Pancake mixes. Direct sales and packaging of the mixes began a few years ago, with Dilka’s door-to-door delivery of a bag or two here and there to local households.

He began to favor a more modern approach to meet the household-customer demand last fall. Five nearby King Soopers accepted the test marketing of a few of the company’s more popular products, including Mr. Pancake pancakes and Mr. Pancake biscuits.

Along with buying some time for Dilka and his two-person operation, the change represents a more-aggressive step into the retail market. Until recently, Stehman’s Wheat Products’ availability was limited to small independent restaurants or packaging companies that used their own markets.

Stehman’s Wheat is best known as a wholesale dealer, providing about 200 independent restaurants statewide with just-add-water-mixes for pancakes, biscuits, crepes, muffins and waffles.

“I didn’t mind delivering (to homes) on occasion,” Dilka said. “It just got to be too much to deliver one or two bags – we’d have elderly people calling for a bag every now and then. If I was on a milk route, at least it would have been regular.”

King Soopers in Fort Collins, Greeley and Loveland carry the mixes. The packaging still needs some work, but sales are “better than expected,” Dilka said. “With the option for retail if one part of the business goes bad, you’re more stable.”

Dilka wholesales organically grown stone-ground flour under the name Otis Milling Co. The retail and pre-packaged part of the business is under the names Stehman’s Wheat Products and Mr. Pancake.

Last year, the company posted gross sales of about $300,000. Dilka got into the food business 12 years ago with $30,000, no experience and the desire to end a 10-year career with the state highway department, where his duties included snowplowing.

“I had nothing to do with food except eating it,” he said.

Luckily, he didn’t have to start from scratch. Dilka said the company’s basic pancake recipe is decades old. Stehman’s Wheat began as the Wolf Milling Co. in Kansas in the early 1900s. Owners moved it to Colorado during the Depression, and in 1972, Morris Stehman set up shop in Colorado Springs as a manufacturer of pre-packaged mixes.

The Mr. Pancake logo was his creation, and he eventually gave the company his name and moved operations to Greeley. After a series of ownership changes, Dilka assumed the helm in 1982 and moved the business to Kersey six years ago.

Mr. Pancake pancake mix is the best-known of four recipes that came with the company. Bread mixes for bread makers as well as muffin and crepe mixes are a few of the newer product lines.

Dilka said products are also bought and remarketed by large and small companies across the state, such as Kraft Food Service, Barber’s Poultry Inc. of Broomfield and Andrews Produce Inc. of Pueblo. He approached commercial restaurant chains, but they remain too difficult to work with because of loyalty to existing recipes, he said.

“I’m not soliciting new restaurants, and that there are fewer and fewer mom-and-pop restaurants has played havoc,” he said.

Dilka hopes that direct sales to supermarkets will one day be about 40 percent of the business. “We have a product that does well at home.”

It also does well at special events. Cheyenne Frontier Days and the Weld County Fair have used Mr. Pancake mix. Mr. Pancake is also a regular at local charity breakfasts where Dilka sometimes donates his services as a cook.

Stehman’s Wheat Products runs a lean ship. There are two employees: Dilka and his wife, Krystal, who does the accounting. Dilka still spends about half his time delivering to wholesale customers and picking up materials – packaging for the retail product or wheat from Eastern Colorado farms. Most of the wheat purchased is nonorganic – the price of a bushel of organic flour is about 20 percent higher – but some of

the mixes use all- or part-organic ingredients. It’s not realistic to completely eliminate chemicals.

“You have to have baking powder to make it rise, and that is a chemical,” he said. “But we try to stay on the healthy side.”

Stehman’s Wheat Products pancake mixes come in several different flavors: buttermilk, whole wheat and buckwheat. Biscuits come in buttermilk and whole wheat. The muffin mix is add-your-own favorite grain or fruit, and there is a Belgian waffle mix. Breads available include carrot raisin, seven grain and potato cheese. New recipes are developed in the Dilka kitchen with Krystal, and by the six Dilka children, Brad, David, Cole, Corey, Chaz and Kayleen, who are the first tasters. When there are problems – for example, a bread product may not bind properly – Dilka turns to a lab. Future plans include developing gift packages of the pancake and biscuit mixes.

KERSEY – Used to be that a person could step out into the new day and expect to find a newspaper, a bottle of milk and a bag of pancake mix on the doorstep.

Now the people of Kersey have to settle for two out of three. The pancake mix man doesn’t do house calls anymore. But he’s still around.

Dale Dilka owns Stehman’s Wheat Products, a wholesale milling company that produces the popular Mr. Pancake mixes. Direct sales and packaging of the mixes began a few years ago, with Dilka’s door-to-door delivery of a bag or two here and there to…

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