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“The corner baker can compete on quality, cachet and the ‘buy local’ movement, but they can’t compete on being superior,” he said. “With automation, you can make a much more consistent, quality bread than one made by hand … A great baker can do it better some days, but it’s not enough of a difference to the consumer.”
Local bakers who specialize in artisan baking may dispute that, but Kelsey still considers those a niche product. The bigger trend that’s both helping and hurting bakeries today, he said, is the gluten-free movement.
While some bakeries are losing customers who are eliminating or reducing gluten from their diet, retail sales of gluten-free foods and beverages increased 24 percent in 2012 to nearly $4.2 billion in the United States.
And gluten-free isn’t a fad, according to Byron Hanson, director of bakeries, delis and food service for Lunds and Byerly’s. “This is a big health issue for our customers,” he said.
Despite the challenges and closings for independent bakeries, the business as a whole isn’t about to vanish. The outlet stores that closed did so not because of poor sales but almost entirely due to consolidations and mergers in a business that has a handful of major players.
Remaining thrift bakeries and outlets in Edina, Fridley, Hopkins, White Bear Lake and Plymouth say business is good. “Our business is doing very well, but we sell at a huge discount,” said Jimmy Hanson, vice president of sales at Pan-O-Gold outlet in Plymouth.
And a number of premium bakeries are thriving and growing. Rustica in Minneapolis has expanded into the wholesale business and now sells to co-ops. Patisserie 46 in Minneapolis, which opened several years ago, still has long lines of customers.
Michelle Gayer, an award-winning pastry chef and owner of Salty Tart bakery in the Midtown Global Market in Minneapolis, is excited about the number of new or expanded bakeries in the Twin Cities, including Angel’s Food Bakery in Minneapolis and Buttered Tin in St. Paul. Honey and Rye Bakehouse in St. Louis Park and a revival of Hans’ Bakery in Anoka will be opening soon.
“Operating a bakery successfully is a challenge,” Gayer said. “It’s all about location, but the community is very supportive of us.”
Kelly Olsen, the new co-owner of Hans’ Bakery, has felt the love. Her bakery, expected to reopen by November, already has 8,300 followers on Facebook, not to mention supporters volunteering to pick up a paintbrush during the remodeling or boosters who want to send a check for start-up expenses.
Olsen, who will manage the business and hire baking staff, has spent months sitting down with successful bakers as well as those who closed up shop.
“I’ve talked to phenomenal bakers with passion and talent who were working so many hours with their heads down baking that they didn’t have time to oversee the business,” she said. “Some bakers had no idea what it cost them to make a cake or only charged what the market would bear. They need a bean counter like me to make sure it’s a viable business.”
One big advantage that Olsen has is not spending a fortune on her building. She was able to pick up the property in foreclosure, so there won’t be a lease payment hanging over her head.
She’s also taking steps to canvass the neighborhood with news about her bakery, including a nearby water park, elementary school and hospital. “Only time will tell if I’m optimistic or delusional,” she said laughing.
John Ewoldt • 612-673-7633