'There's a bakery in heaven': Reviving Hans' Bakery

  • Article by: ANNA PRATT , Special to the Star Tribune
  • Updated: August 9, 2013 - 9:28 PM

Now, the inspiration for that thought — Hans’ Bakery in Anoka — will be back in business on Earth after closing several years ago.

Hans’ Bakery, which closed several years ago, is being revived and is expected to reopen by Halloween.

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Kelly Olsen had the idea in a dream: There should be a float in Anoka’s Halloween parade to celebrate one of the city’s small gems — Hans’ Bakery, which closed several years ago. The theme would be “there’s a bakery in heaven.”

Olsen doesn’t need a dream interpreter to know what sparked it: She’s busy these days working to bring back the bakery that was started in 1973 by German immigrants Hans and Traudy Birkner.

The vintage building that Olsen bought in late May needs a lot of work, but she aims to reopen the business in time for Halloween.

After Hans Birkner died in 1998, the bakery was sold. It changed hands again, and a third owner struggled to make it work financially, said Olsen, a real estate broker who lives in Orono. The building went through foreclosure while most of the equipment was repossessed. Shortly thereafter, copper thieves ransacked the place, she said.

Right now, Olsen is poring over design plans, lining up contractors, working through city requirements and formulating the menu. She has even enlisted the help of a couple of former bakery workers to reproduce the old recipes, many an American twist on favorites that Hans brought from Germany.

It’s fitting that Olsen’s 101-year-old German grandmother is getting involved as a taste-tester, she said.

Hans and Traudy Birkner’s son, Randy, who lives in Ramsey, said he admires Olsen’s “drive and desire to make it work,” adding, “It’s going to take someone with that kind of drive to get it back on its feet again.”

Olsen is motivated in part by the outpouring of community support for her venture.

The Facebook page she created for Hans’ Bakery has garnered thousands of “likes” from customers through the years and some former employees.

They reminisce about Texas doughnuts that were “the size of your head,” sneaking over to the bakery after mass, and grabbing a pastry before play rehearsal at Fred Moore Middle School. “It’s been very fun just to visit with people about their memories and what they want to see,” Olsen said. “I’m taking it to heart.”

Offline, Olsen is collecting nostalgic photos to display at the bakery, she said.

Also, her inbox is overflowing with offers from perfect strangers to help mow the lawn or install new plumbing, she said. Even the beekeepers who supplied the honey for the bakery’s beehive coffeecakes reached out to her, she said.

The beehive is the most-requested pastry. It will “be a top priority on the menu for sure,” she said.

Childhood memories

Olsen, 35, who grew up in Blaine, vividly remembers her trips to the bakery as a child.

After she received an award at preschool one day, her mom brought her to Hans’ to pick out a treat. She stared at the display case for what seemed like forever. “I pressed my nose against the glass, staring into a sea of cookies, brownies with thick frosting and cupcakes with plastic princess ornaments,” she said.

In time, she had a go-to pastry: a chocolate-covered long john, sprinkled with peanuts on top, and no filling.

But it’s not just the memories that prompted her to pursue the project.

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  • Kelly Olsen went to Hans’ Bakery as a child and is working to revive the business.

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