Wuollet Bakery is making 4,000 pies this week before Thanksgiving as it heads into its first holiday season under new ownership.
Eric Shogren bought the 75-year-old business from the Wuollet family two months ago and has slowly been making small changes — like a new computer system and cash registers and lowering prices on some of its doughnuts and cookies.
"On the product side of these things, the rule is do no harm. We are definitely not going to change the princess torte," Shogren said. "The heart and soul is still specialty decorated cakes and specialty holiday items."
Shogren is an established businessman in Russia where he founded and owns a 57-store bakery and coffee shop chain called Kuzina. He also owns a small restaurant chain there selling New York-style pizza, which he started nearly 25 years ago. The Minneapolis native returned home several years ago so his five children could finish school in the United States. In 2016, he made his first local business move, buying A Baker's Wife, the beloved neighborhood bakery in south Minneapolis.
He has been a client and admirer of the Wuollet business for years, he said, bringing several of his Kuzina bakers to Minnesota to train under the Wuollet staff. When the family started thinking about selling the business, Shogren was first in line.
"They really wanted to see the legacy maintained, the employees to stay and the loyal clients to get what they've always ordered," Shogren said. Ten family members are still connected to the business and two of the principal partners are staying on with the bakery's operations.
The acquisition also allows Shogren to bring the bestselling items from A Baker's Wife to Wuollet and vice versa. That means better breads and decorated cakes at A Baker's Wife and more cream-filled Danishes and "old-school pastries" at Wuollet.
Overall, Shogren wants to see Wuollet Bakery bring in a younger audience without alienating its longtime patrons.
"The younger generation has not quite found Wuollet the way their parents did," he said. "We want to keep that connection to the great audience that Wuollet has, but also connect to the next generation of Wuollet customers. I think Wuollet feels like they didn't do enough of that over the last 15 years."
For example, he said, "I'm generalizing here, but younger people like doughier, soft, huge cookies while older generations tend to like small, crisper cookies. That's a tough change to make and you have to find the right balance, but those are just true bakery trends."
With time, there may also be some changes to the Wuollet Bakery's physical stores to have a more modern feel.
Shogren is passionate about the idea of classic American neighborhood bakeries and believes the everyday items should be priced "democratically." The cake prices at Wuollet will remain largely intact, but he hasn't ruled out adjusting those based on the location.
Wuollet has five locations — St. Paul, downtown Minneapolis, Robbinsdale, Wayzata and at the Edina-Minneapolis border. The price for cakes might be lowered a bit in Robbinsdale and remain the same other places. "That's because the rent is three times cheaper there than in Edina," Shogren said. "That makes sense for the neighborhood, and that's the reality."
He plans to keep all existing bakeries open and even add new ones.
"Great neighborhoods deserve great bakeries, so we are going to add some more," he said.
The first new location will also be a new concept for the Wuollet brand. Shogren recently took over the lease for the former Urban Bean space in Minneapolis' Lyn-Lake neighborhood and plans to open the first Wuollet Bakery and Coffeehouse, which will offer elevated coffee from Chicago-based Intelligentsia Coffee, pastries from A Baker's Wife, breads from Wuollet and will experiment with a cafe-style food menu.
"That will be a nice opportunity to put Wuollet's name out there among a new generation," he said.