By Kevin Haas
Rock River Current
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The honor comes as the restaurant at 1402 N. Main St. marks its five-year anniversary this week. It was among 48 small businesses or makers inducted into the Illinois Made program. It’s the largest class of businesses since the program began in 2016.
“I’m proud of my team, whether we’re on a special list or not. They work incredibly hard and deserve the recognition,” said Emily Hurd, who owns the restaurant with her husband, Mark Christensen. “I’m beyond grateful to the (Rockford Area Convention & Visitors Bureau) and the community for their support.”
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The Rockford Area Convention & Visitors Bureau nominated The Norwegian, and it was selected by the Illinois Office of Tourism.
The Norwegian serves brunch with a Nordic twist. It also puts on the popular annual Snømarket, an outdoor winter festival held behind the restaurant.
“It begins with the owners … and their deep commitment to hospitality and creativity and innovation,” said John Groh, CEO of the visitors bureau.
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Groh said everything from the hand-crafted woodwork to the locally-sourced meat, cheese and produce and the annual Snømarket make The Norwegian a great attraction.
The Norwegian is the eighth area business inducted into the program. There are seven from Rockford and one from Rockton.
Groh said being a part of the Illinois Made program helps draw attention to unique area businesses, and the Illinois Office of Tourism says many businesses see an increase in sales after inclusion.
“Through the power of the state’s marketing efforts these local entrepreneurs and creators, makers are being lifted up and promoted on a statewide and even a national level,” Groh said. “That is good for business. It’s good for the image of our community.”
Waiting on relief
The honor also comes as The Norwegian continues to wait on relief from the state from unemployment insurance rates that skyrocketed after the coronavirus pandemic. The Norwegian saw its rates increase by a factor of seven despite never making a layoff that wasn’t forced by state-mandated closures.
“… being put on a list by the very entity that has put forth our biggest financial roadblocks is not the support we need. Small businesses need the governor to stop making us pay the highest possible (Illinois Department of Employment Security) rate for listening to him during 2020,” Hurd said. “We need a sliding scale in place for government fees and licenses. We need governing bodies to lower the barrier to entry to starting businesses in this state. I know I speak for other businesses when I say that these solutions and more would feel much more supportive than being on a list.”
Groh said that the visitors bureau has applied to be the administrative agent for that grant money. It’s not clear when the state will move forward with the program, but Groh said he hoped it would be shortly after the first of the year.
“I know it’s frustrating still for folks like Emily and others who were impacted,” Groh said. “Relief is on the way. It just can’t come quickly enough.”
Illinois Made | Previous Rockford-are inductees
Fire Dept. Coffee, 811 W. Riverside Blvd., Rockford
Dairyhaus, 113 E. Main St., Rockton
Barnstormer Distillery, 6969 S. Main St., Rockford
Crust & Crumbles, 116 N. Madison St., Rockford
Rockford Roasting Co., 206 N. Main St., Rockford
Rockford Art Deli, 402 E. State St., Rockford
MainFraiM, 3022 Wallin Ave., Rockford
Source: Rockford Area Convention & Visitors Bureau