Obituary: Entrepreneurial spirit drove Burt McGlynn

  • Article by: JACKIE CROSBY , Star Tribune
  • Updated: December 31, 2011 - 6:05 PM

He began in the business at 15 and made hometown McGlynn Bakeries a nationally known company.

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Burt McGlynn, at right, with, from left, Tom McGlynn, Mike McGlynn, Dan McGlynn in the 1980s.

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Life was one sweet ride for Burt McGlynn, whose family business was revered in the Twin Cities and beyond for its cakes, croissants and other fresh-baked treats.

McGlynn got into the business when he was 15, cleaning floors at the bakery his father opened in 1919 in downtown Minneapolis. During a five-decade career, he turned McGlynn Bakeries into one of the nation's most innovative baking companies.

"He was always open to new ideas," said his son, Dan McGlynn, retired CEO of McGlynn Bakeries. "He took risks."

McGlynn, who had emphysema and kidney failure, died Dec. 23 at his winter home in Captiva, Fla. He was 88.

From the start, McGlynn had a knack for spotting trends and embraced the inventive spirit passed on by his father.

In 1954, he drove to Minneapolis-area neighborhoods in a tricked-out Ford bus his dad called, "Trav'l Bake," where he sold fresh loaves of bread, hot glazed donuts (for 10 cents apiece) and other baked goods. Although the young McGlynn was said to have been a reluctant driver, it was an innovative marketing model that drew the attention of the Wall Street Journal.

McGlynn took over the business in 1956, but sold it two years later and went to work as a retail buyer for the new owners.

He bought back the McGlynn Bakeries name in 1962 and relaunched the business inside two Target stores, which then was an upstart discount chain.

The McGlynn's Bakery name became known across the country through affiliations with Supervalu and Applebaum grocery stores as well as Target.

In 1966, on his wife's suggestion, McGlynn hung a sign at a Target store: "Watch us decorate cakes." Sales took off. McGlynn's soon became known for its cake decorating, planting seeds for a cake decorating business, DecoPac Inc. Launched in 1982, DecoPac today is the world's largest seller of professional cake decorations, with annual sales of $125 million.

As with DecoPac, McGlynn created several successful spinoffs. In the 1980s, Mc-Glynn Bakeries became a major wholesaler, getting a jump selling frozen croissants to Perkins Family Restaurants. By late 1985, McGlynn Bakeries was producing 2 million croissants a week for national distribution in restaurants, bakeries and supermarkets. It was a labor-intensive process in which each 972-pound batch required 127 hand-folded layers of butter and dough. Pillsbury bought the frozen business in 1992 for about $135 million.

McGlynn launched another frozen business in 1995, specializing in artisan breads. With $34 million in sales, the family sold that business for an undisclosed price to Ralcorp Holdings in 2004.

The last of the retail bakeries closed in 2001, and today the McGlynn's Bakery name exists only as nostalgia.

McGlynn remained active in family business matters, and served as board chairman at DecoPac until his death. He spent summers at his home in Greenwood on Lake Minnetonka, and stayed active late in life, playing golf and tennis and swimming.

"He had that 'work hard, play hard' mentality," Dan McGlynn said.

He is survived by his wife, Rosalyn, five children -- all of whom worked at the family business at some point -- and 16 grandchildren. His other children are Michael, of Wayzata, who is CEO of DecoPac; Tim, of Cross Lake, Minn.; Molly McGlynn Varley, of St. Paul, and Thomas, of Orono. Services will be held Thursday in the Basilica of St. Mary in Minneapolis.

Jackie Crosby • 612-673-7335

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