Amy McMillan has never had a nickname stick, until now, so maybe it's fitting that this one has a gooey origin story. She hears it called out when she approaches one of the dozen-or-so shops carrying her elevated take on a backyard party staple.
"Here comes The Marshmallow Lady," she said last week during a visit at Johnson's Bakery, which sells her handcrafted puffs in packs of three.
McMillan came out of high school with the idea of a campfire-themed restaurant complete with a cute trailer for marshmallows. Rather than immediately firing up her skewers, she put the idea on hold when she enlisted with the United States Air Force, where she has been stationed in Texas, Mississippi, South Dakota, California and Colorado in her more than a decade-long career. As her second enlistment approached, she had a decision: remain in active duty or return home, maybe start a family.
Maybe revisit that whole marshmallow thing.
After more than a year of experimentations with candy thermometers and flavor combinations, McMillan recently left her full-time job in the recruiting office at the 148th Fighter Wing Air National Guard to focus on her own business, The Minnesota Marshmallow. Her account base is growing and her marshmallow food truck is open for pop ups, weddings, and, this weekend, Art in Bayfront Park.
And the marshmallows are available for any sort of gathering.
"I'm definitely the person that, if you don't have a bonfire with s'mores, it's not a proper bonfire," she said.
It's been more than a year since McMillan, at a campfire, of course, wondered aloud whether she could make a Juicy Lucy-flavored marshmallow. This time her friends called her on it.
"My friends said, 'We've heard you say this,'" she recalled.
They went to the store and bought every marshmallow on the shelf, she said. Then, over the 2020 Fourth of July weekend, she began creating uniquely flavored marshmallows. She started with vanilla and strawberry and then kept experimenting. The wet pumpkin texture, a Thanksgiving treat, didn't work out the first time she tried it. Or the second.
"The eighth time is where I finally got it," she said.
She used ice cream as her muse in creating a Moose Tracks-flavored 'mallow with peanut butter, fudge and chocolate.
"I got pretty good at it," she said. "My friends at the base were like, 'You should definitely start doing this as a side hobby.' It took off so fast, my side hustle turned into a full-time business."
Kiah Morvig, then a stranger, was a fast fan. She saw McMillan's marshmallows on Instagram and started buying them, especially favoring the sea salt caramel.
"I was basically addicted," she said.
Morvig went to culinary school, where she found her niche in baking classes. Now she has spent five years in the kitchen at Johnson's Bakery. McMillan reached out to the baker to see if it was possible to use the commercial kitchen.
Then the product landed on the shelves of the longtime Lincoln Park business.
McMillan's menu has grown to include about 45 flavors, including Doughnut Madness, which has actual pieces of doughnut baked into the marshmallow; Fat Elvis, which first delivers a shot of banana before segueing into the peanut butter; and Arctic Mint Brownie, inspired by a favorite childhood freezer snack.
"They go super fast," Morvig said of her three-packs of sweet snacks.
McMillan is open to flavor suggestions and she always has more on her mind: a marshmallow that mimics the fall staple of a sweet potato casserole, honey bourbon pecan. The square treats, which were originally created for s'mores, can also be eaten without the additional fanfare of chocolate and graham crackers. Some fans report dropping them into hot chocolate.
She recently updated a trailer to feature her logo: two marshmallows in the shape of the letter "M" squished between crackers. And during a recent interview, she showed off her swag: a T-shirt with an appeal to be a better potlucker: "Minnesota Marshmallow: Because you don't win friends with veggie trays."
About The Minnesota Marshmallow
Where: Available in Duluth at Johnson's Bakery, Bailey Builds Gallery and Bridgeman's Restaurant; in Hermantown at The Vintage Hideaway; in Two Harbors at The Mocha Moose, Louise's Place Cafe and Moose-cellaneous Gift Shop; and in Brainerd at Goody's Gourmet Treats.
Trailer: 10 a.m.-5 p.m. Saturday, 10 a.m.-4 p.m. Sunday at Art at Bayfront Park, Duluth.