(STARTRIBUNE) — BEMIDJI, MINN. – Joe Lueken spent 46 years becoming a successful grocer and community benefactor here. Finally, at 70, he’s ready to sell the business, travel the world with his wife, Janice, and reap some of what they’ve sown.

So when he strides into his south Bemidji supermarket and 2 1/2-year employee Maria Svare smiles broadly and asks him, “How do you like my store today?” it might sound like a joke.

But it’s not. And that’s part of why hundreds of Bemidji residents are thankful this holiday season for Joe Lueken.

On Jan. 1, Lueken’s Village Foods, with two supermarkets in Bemidji and another in Wahpeton, N.D., will begin transferring ownership to its approximately 400 employees through an Employee Stock Ownership Program (ESOP).

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