Bari Gordon believed there was nothing quite so special as a one-of-a-kind cake. With an artist's eye and a bottomless urge to experiment in the kitchen, she figured anyone could make clever confections if they had the right skills and tools.
So in 1976, with nothing more than a big idea and the confidence to match, Gordon opened a store in Golden Valley that sold the kind of cake pans and gadgets found only in mail-order catalogs. Alongside her mother and business partner, Adeline, she taught classes that helped even the most tentative of bakers learn how to turn a boring pan cake into a frosted masterpiece.
"It was homey and friendly and very instruction-oriented," daughter Abbe Bernstein said about the store, Adbari's Inc., which operated in a strip mall off Medicine Lake Road until 1984. "There wasn't the internet [where] you could find all these items. My mom was able to parlay her craft and interest and passion into a business that was ahead of its time."
Gordon, of Plymouth, died Oct. 27 after several years of declining health. She was 77.
Born in Chicago, she never met her father, an Army soldier who was killed in World War II. She moved to Minnesota when her mother remarried, and grew up in southwest Minneapolis and St. Louis Park.
With jet-black hair, a wide smile and a flair for fashion, she caught the eye of Av Gordon, then in law school, at a classmate's wedding. The couple's fate was sealed less than a year later, when Gordon's grandmother placed her own engagement ring on young Bari Wexler's finger and sent her downstairs to show it off.
"Suddenly all of our friends and relatives from all sides of the city converged on the house in north Minneapolis," Av Gordon said. "It was this big engagement party. They must've seen something in her."
They were married on July 4, 1965, as a way to honor her late father and, perhaps, to guarantee there'd always be a big celebration. The couple eventually bought a house in New Hope, where their girls were the only two Jewish kids at their elementary school. But the daughters remembered making challah bread with their mother and the many ways she made them feel special as their friends celebrated Easter and Christmas.
Gordon loved holidays, the family said, whether religious or secular, Christian or Jewish. And, always, birthdays. "My kids are 13 and 15," youngest daughter Juli Olson said. "For birthdays, one of their favorite things to do with Munnie, which is what they called her, was to make a cake and get to frost it all by themselves."
That was one reason the business brought her so much joy. Named Adbari's as a blending of her own name and mother's, the store sold its own blends of flavorings along with a large selection of pans and molds. The duo wore colorful patchwork smocks as they dished out advice to cake decorators and candy makers, and kept cash in a cigar box.
At home, the kitchen was a constant testing ground, with preparations for the next baking event always underway.
In a 1981 feature in the Star Tribune, a photograph shows Gordon holding a cake shaped like a running shoe, which she said took her an hour and a half to frost.
Decorating was fun on its own, she told the newspaper, but what she loved most was how special it made others feel to have something made just for them.
"I look at it like buying a toy, playing with it, then giving it away," she said.
In addition to her husband and two daughters, Gordon is survived by a brother, Thomas Wexler of Edina, and a sister, Joanne Harris of Henderson, Nev., and four grandchildren. Services have been held.