Change is coming to Rustica.
After nearly 11 years of non-stop baking (more on that in a moment), owner Steve Horton is selling his interest in the Minneapolis bakery to his business partner, Dogwood Coffee Co. owner Greg Hoyt.
“I’m a little fried,” said Horton. “I feel like I need to step away and spend time with my kids, but I can’t leave Rustica without being completely gone.”
Anyone wondering about the all-consuming nature of running a top-flight bakery need only ask Horton about his longstanding 12-hours-a-day, seven-days-a-week schedule and hands-on, quality-obsessed work practices.
He said that it has only been in the past two years that he’s been able to take a regularly scheduled day off each week. During the past decade, Horton has found the time to leave Minnesota just once, an overnight trip to Madison, Wis.
His hard work has certainly paid off, earning Rustica an enviable customer base and a shower of accolades. In late February, Horton was one of 20 bakers across the country who were named semifinalists by the James Beard Foundation for its first-ever Outstanding Baker award (finalists will be announced March 24th). Horton is a two-time previous semifinalist in the foundation’s Outstanding Pastry Chef award.
Hoyt and Horton have been pals for nearly 20 years, and Hoyt is no stranger to Rustica. In 2009, when Rustica relocated from its original south Minneapolis home to its current location, “Greg was instrumental in the move,” said Horton. Dogwood grew out of the coffee bar — it was called Bull Run — that Hoyt installed in the bakery’s then-new location. Dogwood now operates coffee bars in three Minneapolis locations, all stocked with Rustica baked goods, naturally.
What changes will Rustica customers encounter as a result of the sale? “Not much, because there’s not much that needs to be done,” said Hoyt. “I just want to be a steward of the brand. I’m just excited that Steve is going to get some rest, because he’s my friend.”
Burnout is a known phenomenon among entrepreneurs, said John Stavig, director of the Gary S. Holmes Center for Entrepreneurship at the University of Minnesota’s Carlson School of Management.
“It can be an all-consuming life,” he said. “People who are successful at getting things done often have a hard time letting go. Finding a work-life balance is a conversation that everyone needs to have.”
The sale marks the end of Stock & Badge, the holding company that once included Rustica, Dogwood and the former Parka and Grain Stack restaurants. Hoyt added that Rustica will continue to supply retail stores, restaurants and coffee shops, but he’s not ready to think about expansion plans.
“There’s room in the market for Rustica’s products, that’s for sure,” he said. “People have such a love affair with this brand, and that’s something that none of us want to take for granted. We’re not going to grow just for growth’s sake. I don’t really know what I’m going to do, but I’ve seen dozens of examples of what not to do.”
Both see Horton’s departure as an opportunity for Rustica’s 14 bakers. “It’s going to give people here room to grow,” said Horton. “I feel really comfortable walking way, because we have such top-notch people working here.”
One sure bet is that Hoyt won’t be baking. “That’s not where my effectiveness lies,” he said with a laugh. “I don’t know how to roast coffee, either. But I do know how to get people in the right places, and how to develop standards. I’m excited to see what happens when we put our staff to the test.”
Horton plans to act as a consultant to Rustica for a year. “I can’t be out of work for too long,” he said. “I have some ideas, but there’s no imminent project in the works, and I’m not leaving Minneapolis.”
Terms of the deal were not disclosed, and if all goes as planned the sale will be finalized later this month.