In an uncertain world, it’s best to eat dessert first.
That’s sound advice that Sandy and Blair Moeller have lived by for the past two decades. The couple owned Jack’s Bakery and Coffee Shop in Brooklyn Park since 1999, making all of their cakes, cookies, doughnuts and breads from scratch.
Their cakes and confections have helped a generation of north-metro families celebrate milestones — first communions, birthdays, weddings, anniversaries and retirements.
But the rise of big-box retailers, low-carb diets and changing traffic patterns proved a difficult combination for the independent bakery. Jack’s closed its doors after business Saturday, another example of a mom-and-pop store that couldn’t stay afloat in the suburbs.
“Sometimes it takes something like this to jump-start people. Maybe we need to support the small businesses more instead of the big box. At least that seed is being planted,” Blair Moeller said last week.
Still, the couple are appreciative of their regular customers.
“They’ve been unbelievable,” said Sandy Moeller. “It’s so overwhelming. It breaks your heart to know you are disappointing so many people.”
Brooklyn Park City Council Member John Jordan lamented the closing.
“Their cookies and doughnuts are so much better than the larger mass market types of doughnuts out there,” Jordan said. But big-box retailers “are selling the same product for less money. It’s hard to compete with that. I understand the financial difficulties they would have competing with the big-box stores.”
Jordan used to own a small golf shop. Facing a similar business climate, it eventually closed, too.
“My little golf shop could not compete with the Golf Galaxies of the world,” he said. “They just had so much better buying power than I had.”
Sandy Moeller teared up as she reminisced a few days before the bakery closed.
Jack’s, named after its former owner, was located in a strip mall on Broadway Avenue. But inside there was a distinct small-town feel to the place.
Last Tuesday, the bakery was busy with a line winding from the counter to the front door. The small dining area of laminate booths was also full with regulars sipping coffee and lingering over pastries.
The word was out that Jack’s would be closing, and some folks were ordering extra cakes and breads to freeze.
The glass case was filled with fancy cupcakes, cookies and bars. Many of Jack’s specialties, including blueberry doughnuts and banana flips — a doughnut with a banana filling — were already sold out for the day. Women behind the counter in maroon aprons and handkerchiefs took orders.
Prices were reasonable at 45 cents for a cookie and 85 cents for a doughnut with sprinkles.
“I should have kept raising prices, but it’s hard,” Sandy Moeller said.
Blair Moeller grew up in the business. His parents owned a bakery in Elbow Lake for more than 40 years. He studied baking at Dunwoody College in Minneapolis and started working at Jack’s in 1984 when it opened. He and his wife bought the place in 1999.
Back then, they sold 900 graduation cakes in the month of June. The opening of Sam’s Club and Costco sliced their cake business by more than half in ensuing years, Blair Moeller said. Jack’s cakes cost more, he acknowledged.
And then the Atkins diet phenomenon took a bite out their business.
“Low-carb turned into no-carb,” Blair Moeller said. “Once you got over that craze, commodities prices skyrocketed. Flour was at $30 a bag, and eggs were going sky high.”
Sandy Moeller said it was hard to keep up with rent and other expenses, even as the couple worked long days.
The bakery employed about 20 people, including counter clerk Deb Zabel, who worked there 15 years. Jack’s made her three children’s wedding cakes.
“Everyone said it was so good. They ate two or three pieces. I didn’t even get one,” Zabel said.
Her grandchildren ate their first doughnut holes there.
“We’ve had a lot of good times,” Zabel said.
In the front of the bakery, a group of regulars sipped coffee.
They’re five retirees who hit golf balls at the nearby golf dome and then went to Jack’s every Tuesday for the past five years.
On this day, they were trying to figure out another place to meet, but they were coming up empty. Everything in the area is fast-food or a chain place, which isn’t their preference.
“In general, you’d like to see more of these types of things in the city. You’d like to have more neighborhood businesses,” said Jack Kaczrowski.
The Moellers, who live in Andover, say they’re not sure what the future holds. Blair Moeller said he’ll follow up a lead on a baking job. This summer, he’d like to go fishing and spend time with his grandkids — things that got squeezed as he and his wife worked to keep the bakery afloat.
“It would be nice to find a Monday-through-Friday job,” Blair Moeller said. “I am looking forward to finally watching our oldest grandson play baseball and stay for the whole game. I usually can only stay for three or four innings.”
He said he will miss the daily dose of chocolate and the regulars who always had a kind word for his life’s work.
The couple will turn over the keys to the bakery on April 30. It will be bittersweet. It’s also the day their fifth grandchild is due to be born.
“It will be the last day of the bakery but the first day of a new life,” Sandy Moeller said.