When Charles Ingebretsen emigrated from Norway to the Midwest in the early 1900s, he had no grand plans to create a hub of Scandinavian culture in Minneapolis. But as his small store on East Lake Street grew and regulars began pouring in, it became more than a simple meat market, and has now transformed into a pilgrimage site of sorts for Minnesotans looking to connect with their Scandinavian heritage.
Covered in folksy Scandinavian murals and flowers stretching to the roof, Ingebretsen’s Gifts has sat in the same location for the last 90 years. Family-managed for its entire history, the staff at Ingebretsen’s is quick to issue a “goddag” or “velkommen” to first-time visitors, or regulars getting their monthly supply of nøkkelost, a meatball mix, or the much misunderstood and maligned lutefisk.
Along with meat and cheese, Ingebretsen’s has expanded to include a wide variety of imported gifts, candy and even cooking supplies. But more important than their inventory is the culture around the market. After 90 years in the same location, it has become a place to hear Scandinavian languages and commune with a population getting farther from its roots with every generation.
Despite the prominence of Norwegians, Danes, Swedes and Finns in Minneapolis, there is no better way to reconnect to Scandinavian heritage than a trip to Ingebretsen’s around Christmas, when the line for lefse and other Scandinavian goodies stretches around the block.