'She makes sure it gets made'
DICKINSON—Anna Baburkina hauls a large plastic bin piled high with pork meat, upending it into a grinder that turns solid meat into streams of sausage that will serve to make the Wurst Shop's renowned meats.
Baburkina, the plant manager for the Wurst Shop, is a transplant from Alaska, a logger, a fisherman—and only 18 years old.
"In Alaska I applied at a meat shop at 16. They didn't want to hire me, so I told them 'Give me a week. You don't have to pay me for this whole entire week. Let me show you what I can do,'" Baburkina said. "So I showed 'em what I could do. I learned to package everything, cut meat, butcher animals, all that."
Baburkina's parents came to Minnesota from Alaska, where she grew up doing logging and commercial fishing. She said she started working and earning her way at 12 years old.
"We'd fish all year round, winter, summer. Winter is freezing," Baburkina recalled. "It'd get so cold we'd stick our hands into the ocean to warm up our hands. It was horrible."
"She's responsible for making the product ... nothing gets out without (her) approval," Ken Molitor, owner of the Wurst Shop, said, describing Baburkina's responsibilities. "She makes sure it gets made and all."
Baburkina serves as plant manager, but she's just one of a handful of young women who have come to work at the shop. From the front end to the back, it is the women of the Wurst Shop who are taking the lead in keeping the world-renowned Dickinson staple meeting its customers' high expectations.
"It's a lot of fun. I really have a good time here," said Beth Hauk, 19, who manages the front, running cash registers, taking orders and chatting with customers. Hauk came aboard at Molitor's invitation, having been associated with him through a church youth group.
Maria Baburkina, Anna's older sister, also works at the Wurst Shop. She works in the kitchen of the German-style restaurant portion of the business. She's proud of how well her sister's doing for herself, but she admits it's been a change of pace to suddenly be taking orders from her little sis.
"She can almost be stubborn at times," Maria said. "She's really ambitious. She's a hard worker."
Kristina Molitor sees the inclusion of younger staff at the Wurst Shop as a sign of faith in the new generation.
"We have a lot of young ... women who are doing fantastic," Molitor said. "When people say they don't have faith in their young people, well there are some really good young people, and right now, we've got a lot of them."
Ken Molitor was wary about putting his faith in Anna initially, though. Baburkina said that she'd found out about the Wurst Shop from a friend of her father's who ate there. She came in and asked for a job. Ken said he was impressed initially, but he told her he wanted to think it over. Then, not long after, a certain incident made his mind up for him.
"I'm driving up the street and ... this head sticks out of this vehicle next to me, and she's hollering 'Are you going to hire me?' and I say 'Show up tomorrow.'" Ken recalled with a laugh. "If someone's got that much nerve, you have to take a chance on 'em."
Baburkina showcased plenty of nerve, but she's also demonstrated a lot of skill. She seems at home in the butcher shop, possessing an uncanny calm as she goes about handling the various meats, forming sausages and overseeing the other workers.
"I just find it enjoyable. It's like gardening, y'know? It's relaxing," she said, acknowledging that it does take a lot of learning to do. "It takes a lot to learn everything here, especially the cuts. If you're determined to learn it, I'm pretty sure you can do it."
Her favorite part is the nitty gritty work of processing meat, grinding, making the cuts. For Baburkina, the craft and the creation are the satisfaction of the work.
"If I create something, I love seeing the finished (product) afterwards. Like drawing a picture. You start and then you can say 'Hey, I actually did this,'" she said.
The Wurst Shop processes hundreds of pounds of meat a day, all of which is overseen by Baburkina. She works closely with Hauk, bridging the front and back of the store. As for Hauk, she enjoys the opportunity to work alongside employees her own age.
"I'm usually surrounded by older people," Hauk said. "It's kind of fun. It's easier to work with people your own age rather than being in charge of older people."