BEMIDJI, Minn. (AP) -- Entrepreneurial inspiration can strike in the most unexpected places. Bob and Billie Edwards found it one day deep in the woods, on a paddling trip celebrating their 20th wedding anniversary.
They had lugged their tent and packs through the Boundary Waters Canoe Area Wilderness. One afternoon, after a mile's portage, they spread out their provisions -- including some sun-ripened tomatoes, wild rice, coffee creamer and a packet of dehydrated gift-shop gourmet soup -- and wondered, after filling their bellies, if they hadn't discovered a better way to eat in the wild.
''It was born right there on a rock on Vista Lake,'' said Bob Edwards, a Bemidji optometrist.
They returned home, contemplated the future and in 90 minutes calculated a business plan that became Cache Lake Quality Camping Food, a three-year-old moonlight business that sells, on the Internet and through regional +outdoor+ stores and outfitters, dehydrated wild-rice asparagus soup, turkey Italian sausage and garlic bread you fry up fresh in a campstove skillet.
The company motto: Camping food so good, you'll want to eat it at home. It's a seemingly outrageous promise to anyone ever stuck with a pack of stale and soggy food on the sixth day of a week's canoe trip.
Bob Edwards, a former Eagle Scout and longtime Boundary Waters lover, wanted to build a better minestrone because he had one big complaint about freeze-dried camping food: There just wasn't enough of it, never mind its cardboard taste.
''The packages always said it served one but it was never enough for what we wanted to eat on the trail, which is a lot,'' he said.
So he enlisted fellow optometrist Jim Molde, a partner in their mail-order optical supply business, and together their two families have found a market niche among hungry canoeists, kayakers, backpackers and others.
The two men know eyes and Bob Edwards has dabbled in previous entrepreneurial pursuits, including canoe-manufacturing, long-distance telephone and fireplace-insert companies. Food? Now, that's another issue, unless you include Billie Edwards' grandmother.
''She used to cook in the Iron Range lumber camps,'' said Billie Edwards, a former nurse, ''so maybe that rubbed off.''
They hooked up with a Park Rapids woman who makes dehydrated gourmet soups and breads and they adapted her products for the outdoors. Their food had to taste good, be prepared in 20 minutes or less, and preferably be cooked in one pot.
Then the Edwardses hit the road, taking their campstoves and pots, soups and salads, to Ely, where they stopped at canoe outfitters and one by one offered freshly made samples of their Cache Lake food, named after the ''Cache Lake Country'' book Bob Edwards has read since he was a child.
Nearly every outfitter asked the same question: Do you have a fish chowder? ''We quickly realized there are only so many ways for them to cook fish,'' Billie Edwards said, ''So a week later, we had a fish chowder.''
Now their product line includes a couple of chowders, five kinds of soup, salads and precooked chicken and turkey canned in a plastic pouch. All come in sizable portions. Their specialty: Bread made fresh in a frying pan in five minutes. It comes in four flavors (dill, Italian, onion and garlic) and there are cinnamon, caramel and pizza versions as well. Prices range from $2.85 to $5.75 per item.
''If you wanted fresh bread, you used to need a reflector oven, and it was big and heavy and took all afternoon,'' said Bert Heep, outfitting manager for Piragis Outfitters in Ely. ''Now, they've made it so easy, and it's fresh and it's hot. People love it, especially if they're cold and wet.''
Peninsula Clarion ©2013. All Rights Reserved.