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Chaska Bakery owner Dave Blackowiak, greeted customers as he worked alongside his daughter Katrina Blackowiak, 19, during their last few days of business.

Elizabeth Flores , Star Tribune

A group of men called the Chaska Gentlemen’s Club has been gathering at the Chaska Bakery for a long time. This week, they had one last reunion. “Over the years, we’ve developed a sense of family,” said Burt Johnson, who is not pictured. Some of the men have gathered there every day for as long as 30-plus years.

Elizabeth Flores, Star Tribune

Chaska Bakery, open since 1884, sells its last bread today

  • Article by: HERÓN MÁRQUEZ ESTRADA
  • Star Tribune
  • April 11, 2009 - 12:07 AM

Though its display cases this morning will be filled with doughnuts, cakes and rolls, one of the oldest bakeries in Minnesota is closing its doors today because of increasingly flat sales and, ultimately, a lack of dough.

The Chaska Bakery, operated out of the same downtown building for more than 125 years, will sell its last apple strudel and rye bread loaf this afternoon.

"It's a shame," said Chaska Mayor Gary Van Eyll, a loyal customer since moving to town in 1974. "I know they tried to keep it open. I feel bad for them and for Chaska."

The establishment is one of the last from-scratch bakeries in the Twin Cities area, said owner Dave Blackowiak, who bought the business from his father, John, in 2005.

"He got out at a good time," Blackowiak said of his dad, who bought the business in the 1980s. "Everything has changed in this business."

The growing problems for small bakeries -- facing growing competition from supermarkets such as Rainbow, which has a store nearby -- were exacerbated last summer when the recession began to ripple through the economy.

"Everyone cut back," said Blackowiak, who saw his annual revenues drop $130,000 last August when he lost contracts with wholesalers.

Adding to his problems were high fuel costs and the opening last July of the new Hwy. 212, which now allows people to speed through Chaska, bypassing the bakery downtown.

"It's sad," said Tracie Allison, who has worked at the bakery for about five years. "The worst part is we're going to miss the people."

Among those most affected will be a group of about 15 retired and semi-retired men who have come in every morning to the bakery about 10:30 to have coffee and shoot the breeze.

"Over the years, we've developed a sense of family," said Burt Johnson, who has been part of a loose-knit "Chaska Gentlemen's Club" for about six years. "It's all very congenial."

News of the closure was announced several weeks ago, and since that time there has been a run on the bakery as people have come from all over Minnesota and outside the state to partake.

"I was in there and I heard one of the workers saying that if they had been this busy all along they would have made it," said Van Eyll, who remembers his mother-in-law bringing home a box of cookies from the bakery every Saturday after she had her hair done downtown. There are hundreds of such stories in Chaska, a city of roughly 17,000 people, according to the bakery's customers.

"They've been around almost as long as the town," said Van Eyll, who is also a member of the Gentlemen's Club.

Chaska was incorporated in 1871 as a village. The bakery was founded in 1884, although the original owner, Gottlieb Eder, had peddled baked goods from a wagon around Chaska and surrounding towns for a decade before, Blackowiak said.

"This building has been a bakery since 1871," he said. "It's always been a family operation. I'm second generation. I always thought my kids would be the third generation to take over. That's not going to happen."

Blackowiak has sold the building to someone who will likely turn it into a wholesale food operation, he said.

He said he hasn't planned anything special for the last day, although he will bake a lot more goods than usual to feed the hundreds of people he is expecting to stop by.

"It's going to be a busy day," he said. "I'm hoping to be done early so I can sit with the people one last time."

Heron Marquez Estrada • 612-673-4280

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