By Carol Stiffler
Cynthia Dorie has seen it happen. A skeptical man will approach her Yooper Chook vendor booth and profess that no winter hat ever fits his “big head”. She shows him an extra large Yooper Chook and asks him to give it a shot. Maybe they’re just humoring her, but they put it on.
“Their eyes get all wet,” said Dorie, who lives in Newberry. “They walk away fully warm.”
That’s all the satisfaction she needs.
Dorie, who created the Yooper Chook in 2009, in a stroke of love for her brother. Dan Dorie was outside blowing snow and he was suffering. “He came in and said ‘You’ve got to make me a hat that will keep me warm while I’m snowblowing,’” she recalled. She’d been working on a fleece blanket and paused to help. In 10 minutes, she whipped up a hat that included a built-in face mask, and Dan went back outside.
“I kept watching out the window,” she said. “He gave me a thumbs up.”
She showed the prototype to her mom, a woman known for her honesty. “She said it was good,” Dorie said. “Which meant it was really good.”
And so the Yooper Chook was born. The “Yooper” part is obvious, and “Chook” is a take on the french word “toque,” which is pronounced “toke” and describes a hat with no brim. The Yooper Chook is a roomy fleece hat that can be worn three ways – as a basic hat, as a hat with a chin strap, or as a hat with a face guard that protects from under the eyes to the Adam’s apple. Dorie sells them in sizes small through extra large and even offers one with double fleece for bald tops.
With the belief that her invention could make winter more bearable, Dorie made and stockpiled an inventory of hats and headed to the 2009 Ice Festival in Curtis. She brought about a hundred hats and hoped to make about $100. The weather was balmy and people were milling around with ease, coats open.
“Within a half hour, it turned gray, cold, and nasty,” she said. “The stage was set.”
Ill-prepared for the weather, shoppers found their way to her booth and started forking over money. Dorie charged $20 per hat, and before long business was hopping. She was stuffing $20 bills into her pockets haphazardly to keep up.
On the way back to Newberry, Dorie pulled over to count her proceeds. She’d made about $1,300.
“I’ll be honest,” she said. “I pulled the van over and did a jig. I knew so many people were going to be warm. The money was secondary.”
Business steadily increased, and when she launched a television ad campaign in 2014, it exploded. Yooper Chooks are now her day job.
Business is good – she has sold thousands of Yooper Chooks, paid off her home, and owes money to no one. Her brand now sold in 154 stores (and counting) across states in the midwest and northeast.
That includes the U.P. Trading Co. and Exclusive Moose in downtown Newberry. Sharon Magnuson, who owns the store with her husband, Bill, began carrying the Yooper Chook in 2009.
“She came in and asked me to stock some,” Magnuson said. “And now we have to call her.”
Shoppers who buy the Yooper Chook are usually looking for Michigan-made gifts. Dorie’s hats come in a variety of colors. “We sell an awful lot of the black, camo, and buffalo plaid,” Magnuson said.
When Dorie couldn’t keep up with demand, she hired local seamstresses to help. Now, she and her son, Dustin TenEyck, cut out the pieces by hand and transfer them to her seamstresses. She’s searching for more seamstresses, too, who can put in 15-20 hours a week assembling Yooper Chooks. Dorie refuses to transfer the work out of Michigan.
“Right from the start, it’s been all about increasing Yooper awareness,” Dorie said. “It was all about the people, the area.”
Business is so good that it’s taken over her home. Dorie is planning to have a large building constructed on the back of her Newberry property where she will handle storage, shipping and inventory. She projects 3-5 more years of growth and plans to hand the business over to TenEyck in time.
Until then, Dorie is happy to help people stay warm in the winter.
“Every winter, I’ll have a hunter that calls me from his blind,” Dorie said. They tell her how warm they are in their Yooper Chooks.
That’s all the satisfaction she needs.