After a 10-year absence from his hometown of Fridley, John Sopkowiak chose the Lofthouse C2B bakery outlet for one of the first stops on his reunion tour.
"The prices can't be beat," the New Mexico resident said. "It's good bread, too."
It's easy to see why anyone who's found the elusive Lofthouse outlet, aka C2B, would keep coming back. Corpulent, artisan loaves sold unwrapped and unsliced for the giddy sum of 50 cents per loaf are plucked from cardboard bins in the small retail space. Any hard-core cheapskate who hasn't said "It's a steal," with meaning lately will be transported at Lofthouse.
Ironically, it's one of a dwindling number of bakery thrift or outlet stores as food prices have skyrocketed, especially for a loaf of bread. Stores have closed all over the Twin Cities in the past decade, including locations in White Bear Lake, Minnetonka, New Hope, Roseville, Minneapolis and St. Paul. Some closings have been because of a lack of business, but most are because of consolidations.
Ten years ago, there were a dozen manufacturers, including the ubiquitous McGlynn's outlets. Today many of them are under the same umbrella, said Dan McGleno, production manager of Saint Agnes Baking Co. in St. Paul. Only three brand-name outlets remain: Wonder, Sara Lee/Tastee and Pan-O-Gold (Country Hearth). (Lofthouse is not branded, but it used to be a McGlynn's facility.)
Most of the manufacturers had bakery thrift stores, but as McGlynn's, Metz Baking and Master were bought out, competing stores owned by the same company started to close, said Jimmy Hanson, vice president of sales at Pan-O-Gold in Plymouth. Never much of a moneymaker, thrift stores have been a way for manufacturers to get rid of excess bread not sold in supermarkets or donated to charities.
"It's cheaper for bakeries to practically give the bread away than to put it in the trash," McGleno said.
Lofthouse appears to be the only thrift store almost "giving away" its bread, but others discount their "day-old" bread about 50 percent.
Saving a buck or two on a loaf of bread might not be worth it for a one- or two-person household, but the Wonder Outlet on Lake Street in Minneapolis was a good fit for Titilayo Bediako. She saved about 30 percent buying dozens of hot dog buns (16 buns for $1.99) for a youth program at We Win Institute in Minneapolis.
At Lofthouse, Susan Hoglund of Fridley spent $9 for 18 loaves of sourdough for a graduation party.
"Fifty cents for a loaf of bread is a phenomenal value," Hoglund said.
Phil Schuler of Mounds View paid only $5 at Lofthouse for frozen cookie dough that made 25 dozen monster-sized chocolate chip cookies.
"They're a dollar apiece in stores," he said, marveling at the deal.
Bakery outlets popular again
As the price of flour has more than tripled in the past year, consumers are beginning to seek out bread outlets again, when they can find them. Business is up 20 percent at the Wonder Outlet in Minneapolis, manager Jane Jestus said.
Customers who haven't been in a bakery outlet before will find a varied assortment. Lofthouse sells only baked goods such as breads, rolls and cookies. The Wonder, Sara Lee/Tastee, Pan-O-Gold and Hopkins outlets are more like mini-convenience stores that sell brand-name breads and rolls as well as packaged doughnuts, cookies, packaged snacks, condiments, milk and pop. The bread is usually the best deal. Some snacks are slightly cheaper than the preprinted prices on the package, but staples such as milk and pop are less expensive at Aldi, Cub and Rainbow.
As for the "day old" stigma, most of the outlets sell a mix of fresh and day-old breads, so check freshness dates. With so many breads filled with ingredients to extend shelf life, the concept of day-old bread is largely irrelevant, McGleno said.
While it might be true that early birds get the best selection, most store shelves were still well-stocked by late morning and early afternoon on a recent check. Many of the outlets restock throughout the day. Call ahead if you're looking for large quantities.
TWIN CITIES BAKERY OUTLETS
LOFTHOUSE/ C2B CONCEPTS
7350 Commerce Lane, Fridley, 763-586-6241.
Prices: Bread, 50 cents per loaf; cookies, $2 per pack; rolls, 25 cents each.
Store items: More than 50 artisan breads, including Tuscan white, cranberry walnut, honey oat, country Italian, ciabatta rolls, cookies. Generally, no more than six to eight varieties offered daily.
Hours: 9 a.m.- 4 p.m. weekdays.
3200 Ranchview Lane, Plymouth, 763-559-1515.
Prices: Bread, $1.19 per loaf (private label) to $1.89 (12-grain or cinnamon-raisin).
Store items: Variety of Country Hearth breads, buns, cookies, packaged snacks, condiments.
Hours: 8:30 a.m.-5 p.m. weekdays, 8:30 a.m.-2 p.m. Sat.
Blaine (763-755-5542), Eagan (651-688-9275), New Brighton (651-639-1266), Richfield (612-861-5926), White Bear Lake (651-779-6552)
Prices: Bread, 60 cents per loaf (private label) to $1.89 (black rye).
Store items: Bread from Sara Lee, Healthy Choice and Master; buns; Malt O' Meal cereals; cookies; milk; condiments; bagged snacks.
Hours: 9 a.m.-6 p.m. weekdays, 9 a.m.-4 p.m. Sat.
WONDER BREAD AND HOSTESS CAKES
Burnsville (952-890-7335), Maplewood (651-770-7176), Minneapolis (612-729-1710), New Hope (763-533-2268)
Prices: Bread, 99 cents to $1.35 per loaf.
Store items: Wonder Bread, English muffins, doughnuts, Hostess cookies, Twinkies, condiments, bagged snacks.
Hours: 9 a.m.-5:30 p.m. weekdays, 9 a.m.- 5 p.m. Sat.
HOPKINS THRIFT BAKERY
1812 Mainstreet, Hopkins, 952-931-9679
Prices: Three loaves for $1.75 or half off the marked price.
Store items: Bread, cookies, rolls and doughnuts from Cub Foods bakery and Jerry's Foods.
Hours: 7 a.m.- 6 p.m. weekdays, 7 a.m.- 4 p.m. Sat.