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Joe's dream realized: Lueken’s Village Foods completes founder’s final goal of employee ownership ahead of schedule

BEMIDJI--When Lueken's Village Foods started its employee stock ownership plan in 2013, the goal was to have the process finished in five years. But company officials say because of its team of driven workers, though, the ESOP was finished in jus...

BEMIDJI-When Lueken's Village Foods started its employee stock ownership plan in 2013, the goal was to have the process finished in five years.

But company officials say because of its team of driven workers, though, the ESOP was finished in just more than three.

"We reached 100 percent and are fully employee-owned now," said Jeff Lueken, son of the grocery company's founder, Joe Lueken. "In the end, it was the employees that came together to make it happen. It was their success."

The ESOP process, transferring ownership to the employees in a company, was initiated by Joe Lueken on Jan. 1, 2013. According to Lueken, the transition began with 10 percent ESOP ownership and continued to build until it reached 100 percent at all three of the company's grocery stores.

Lueken's Village Foods has been a fixture in Bemidji for decades. Joe Lueken moved to Bemidji in 1966 to manage his brother's grocery store, Lueken's Village Foods, and later bought the business and expanded it. The company now has two Lueken's Village Foods stores in Bemidji and another grocery business, Econofoods, in Wahpeton, N.D.

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When Joe Lueken died in July 2014 at age 72, Jeff Lueken said there was an impact in the ESOP implementation process. However, the company was able to work through and still come in ahead of its five-year schedule.

"When we became an ESOP, it was our first step into it and our goal was to get 100 percent by the fifth anniversary," Jeff said. "I think we have a better grasp on how the ownership feels now and how we will leverage it going forward."

The path ahead for the company will be building on what was established in the first 50 years of its existence, or as Lueken called it, "Lueken's 2.0."

"We've spent the last few years trying to figure out how to move forward and what we want to see in the long term. We're seeing what we want to do for the next 50 years," he said. "We have an internal management team that we've just formed about a month ago, and there's 32 of us from across the organization sitting on it."

Lueken said there's no titles for the management group who will direct the company for the years ahead. "It's not the only leadership in the company, but they will be the main drivers of it," Lueken said.

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