Minnesota Prairie Roots

Writing and photography by Audrey Kletscher Helbling

Montgomery, Part III: Franke’s Bakery, a sweet spot in the “Kolacky Capital of the World” March 6, 2013

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EDITOR’S NOTE: In the spring of 2010, I visited Franke’s Bakery in Montgomery, a now 99-year-old business which truly embraces the community’s Czech heritage. This feature published in Minnesota Moments magazine and I’m reprinting it here as written three years ago, with the addition of many more photos. This is the third in a five-part series of stories from Montgomery. Enjoy.

Mary Ann Kaisersatt, left, and Jule Franke make prune-filled kolacky.

Mary Ann Kaisersatt, left, and Jule Franke make prune-filled kolacky.

JULE FRANKE AND MARY ANN KAISERSATT work side-by-side in the bakery kitchen, their fingers swiftly and expertly stretching, folding and tucking corners of dough squares across dollops of prune filling.

In an hour, they will have made 50 dozen kolacky, the trademark Czech pastry of 96-year-old Franke’s Bakery in downtown Montgomery, self-proclaimed “Kolacky Capital of the World.”

Unbaked prune kolacky.

Unbaked prune-filled kolacky.

As Franke shapes the neat little dough packages upon the lightly-floured wooden countertop in this room that smells of yeast and baking bread, she describes the Czech treat. It’s “like a sweet dough with a filling,” she says. And at Franke’s, those fillings are the popular prune and poppy seed, plus apricot, apple and raspberry.

For 50 years now, this woman, who confesses that she is not Czech but German, has been making kolacky. “I’m not from here and I’m not Czech, until I married the baker,” she says, smiling.

“The baker” would be Alvin “Butch” Franke, her husband of 52 years who died last December. His father, Emil, a German with a little Czech heritage, grew up in Czechoslovakia, immigrated to America in the early 1900s and opened the bakery in 1914. Butch followed in his baker father’s footsteps. And then Butch and Jule’s son, Bob, became involved in the family business 25 years ago.

Franke's Bakery anchors a corner of downtown Montgomery.

Franke’s Bakery anchors a corner of downtown Montgomery.

Today this bakery, located in the heart of Minnesota Czech country, is nationally-known for its ethnic pastry. Franke’s ships packages of kolacky via priority mail all over the U.S., especially before holidays like Easter. Those customers often grew up in the area, Franke says, and will simply mail a check and a request for kolacky.

Customers orders hang in the kitchen.

Customers orders hang in the kitchen.

The bakery also has a loyal customer base locally and in the Twin Cities area.

The bakery retains the charm of yesteryear.

The bakery retains the charm of yesteryear.

But at no time is the demand for Franke’s kolacky higher than during Montgomery’s annual celebration of its Czech heritage, Kolacky Days, set this summer for July 23 – 25. Franke enlists her children and their families to make 2,000 dozen kolacky for the weekend event that includes a home-baked kolacky contest and a kolacky eating competition. During the celebration, Franke’s kolacky are sold at the bakery and in Memorial Park.

A selection of Franke's Bakery bread.

A selection of Franke’s Bakery bread, made without preservatives.

Yet, day-to-day, this Czech treat remains a mainstay at this bakery, also known for its rye bread.

Czech, Slovakian and American flags grace the bakery counter.

Czech, Slovakian and American flags grace the bakery counter.

“Vitáme Vás!” (“We welcome you”) imprinted on a window placard, miniature Czech and Slovakian flags set upon the countertop and humorous signs like “PARKING FOR CZECHS ONLY—ALL OTHERS WILL BE TOWED” embrace the area’s rich Czech heritage.

Among the sweet treats.

Among the sweet treats.

Here locals gather for a cup of coffee and a sweet treat, sliding into wooden booths in this 1931 building—the original bakery burned—that retains the charm of yesteryear.

Behind the scenes in the bakery's kitchen.

Behind the scenes in the bakery’s kitchen.

Five days a week Franke arrives here at 5:30 a.m. to help prepare baked goods, following family recipes that have been passed down through the generations. Soon fresh-baked doughnuts, Bismarcks, cookies, breads, turnovers, bars, buns, kolacky and more fill display shelves.

She has no plans to retire.

“This is in her blood,” says employee Kaisersatt.

Flour scoop...

Flour scoop…

The women laugh as they continue to fold dough, lifting and gently placing the square treats onto parchment paper-lined trays that hold five dozen kolacky. Kaisersatt scoots around to the other side of the work station across the slippery, flour-dusted floor to grab a kettle of milk wash. She dips her wide brush into the liquid and sweeps the bristles across the unbaked mounds of dough.

This, Franke says, helps to brown and keep the kolacky moist. The dough will rest overnight, then go into a steambox for an hour to rise before baking in the morning.

As appealing as the ethnic treat is to customers, the slender Franke admits, “I don’t eat too many (kolacky). I don’t care too much for sweets.”

But, obviously, customers do, as they’ve supported this family-owned business through three generations, for nearly 100 years.

You can't miss the sign marking Franke's Bakery, a family-owned business in Montgomery for 99 years.

You can’t miss the sign marking Franke’s Bakery, a family-owned business in Montgomery for 99 years.

FYI: Franke’s Bakery is open from 6:15 a.m. – 5 p.m. Tuesday – Friday and from 6:15 a.m. – 3 p.m. on Saturday. The bakery is closed on Sunday and Monday. Call Franke’s at (507) 364-5025 for more information. Visit the bakery website by clicking here.


33 Responses to “Montgomery, Part III: Franke’s Bakery, a sweet spot in the “Kolacky Capital of the World””

  1. Beth Ann Says:

    I could use one of those lovely treats to go with my coffee right now. Great article and photos. Love the smile on Jule’s face!

    • Audrey Kletscher Helbling Says:

      I can’t even recall what treat I got, but I know it was tasty. And, yes, Jule does look happy, doesn’t she. Both women were so warm and friendly given I showed up unannounced.

  2. treadlemusic Says:

    What a gem!!! Now I’m torn…..want to get to one of those productions (but those are on Sunday) AND the bakery (not open on Sunday)=====such a conundrum!!!!!!

  3. I NEED TO GO HERE! Thank you for sharing! My grandma is polish and I have been looking for Kloacky. She says she hasn’t found anything in the cities that is just right.

    • Audrey Kletscher Helbling Says:

      Oh, I’m pretty certain the kolacky at Franke’s Bakery will be “just right” for your grandma. Just make sure you check bakery hours before driving down. Happy to share this discovery with you.

    • Clyde of Mankato Says:

      Kolachy are very varied. My wife’s Russian Kolachy are not like Polish ones or Czech ones. The Russian Orthodox church (St, Mary’s Orthodox, my wife’s home church) regularly sells them. I do not know the schedule. I think one day a week or so. But it changes.

  4. Erin Pluimer Says:

    Those look delicious! My 86 year old Grandma always takes Kolaches to every event (birthday, reunion, Christmas, etc.). It’s her specialty! It’s very similar to these featured, but they’re round and open with the thumbprint fruit filling. She makes prune filling but the apricot is my favorite! She’s actually Swedish, but must have come upon these recipe many years ago and it “stuck!” We’re all glad it did!

    • Audrey Kletscher Helbling Says:

      I’m no expert on kolacky (not even certain how to spell the plural), but I do understand there are the open ones, like you describe, and the closed ones, like those made at Franke’s Bakery. Rather interesting that your grandma is Swedish and bakes this Czech pastry. You will have to ask her about the story behind her discovery of kolacky. Good to hear from you again, Erin.

      • Erin Pluimer Says:

        It is interesting, isn’t it? It’s also tradition to have Italian Spaghetti and Meatballs at Christmas. I’ll see her in a few weeks so I’ll be sure to ask her how she discovered this tasty treat!

      • Audrey Kletscher Helbling Says:

        Sounds like a wonderful diversity of food. I’d love to hear what your grandma says, so please comment back when you have an answer.

      • Erin Says:

        I just received a hand written two page letter from my Grandma about her discovery of Kolaches. She was really thrilled that I had an interest in them and that reminded me of another post you made recently about asking our elders before its too late. My Grandma lived near the small town of Lowry, near Alexandria. There are many Bohemians around that area that exceled at making Kolaches. They often made huge batches for their church fundraisers. When my Grandma retired in the late 1980s she had a few ideas on now to spend her time and among baking bread and quilting was making Kolaches. She had a difficult time finding a recipe that didn’t make 300 and she had a hard time cutting the recipe down. She finally discovered a recipe for 30 in the Douglas County Library that didn’t require kneading. She was skeptical that it would work, but it did! This has become her special treat that she brings to birthday parties, reunions, and holidays. She has given me the recipe but has forewarned me that they are very time consuming to make. I think I might attempt them for my sons birthday party. She would be so proud!

      • Audrey Kletscher Helbling Says:

        Erin, this is fabulous that you asked your grandma about kolacky. Her two-page letter (another treasure) indicates how thrilled she was with your inquiry. I love that now you are going to carry on her tradition. That is a true honor to her legacy. Be sure to take lots of photos (for her and your family).

      • Erin Pluimer Says:

        It was very touching to get my Grandma’s hand written letter. It’s a journal so to speak that I will keep! I can’t wait to try to make these little delights and you are guaranteed I will have my camera out and shooting!

      • Audrey Kletscher Helbling Says:

        I still have all the letters my paternal grandmother wrote to me. Such letters, as you know, are to be treasured.

  5. Clyde of Mankato Says:

    Best kolachy my wife and I ever had: in Steinbach Manitoba, made by Mennonites, of German-Russian heritage.

  6. I so want a Kolacky right now – great post – thanks for sharing! Have a Great One:)

  7. That top photo of the two women making the pasties is priceless!

    • Audrey Kletscher Helbling Says:

      It’s been a few years since I did this photo shoot. But I recall plenty of photo ops and just how open and friendly Jule and Mary Ann were.

  8. Carol Allis Says:

    I love these little slices of smaller town life. I miss it. I can go to a great bakery on Franklin in Minneapolis, but it’s not the same — and the donuts sure aren’t 45 cents!

    • Audrey Kletscher Helbling Says:

      So you caught that 45-cent donut price. This was a price from 2010, so I expect the cost may have risen some. Franke’s Bakery definitely has a genuine small-town atmosphere. I hope nothing has changed there since I shot these pix in 2010.

  9. BradG Says:

    A few years ago I went through West, Texas (just north of Waco), which is the “Czech capital of Texas”. They had Kolache…essentially the same as kolacky, but most had some sort of meat in them. The sausage one I had beat a Hardee’s biscuit hands down.

    • Audrey Kletscher Helbling Says:

      There’s a tip for all you kolache (kolacky) lovers who might be traveling in Texas. Thanks, Brad.

  10. It’s a good thing there are no bakeries near here. A sad thing…but a good thing…

    • Audrey Kletscher Helbling Says:

      What? You must have a home-grown bakery somewhere in the Worthington area. That said, Faribault lost it’s long-time, stand-alone bakery several years ago. We do, however, have a Mexican bakery downtown now. I haven’t been in there for awhile, so perhaps it’s time to stop in again.

      • We have a Mexican one too. I tend to forget about it. We do have a semi-local one which used to sell stuff in the local health food store, but they don’t any more, which is a bummer. When we go to Sioux Falls we stop at one there that we like…

  11. JoAnn Junk Says:

    Hi Audrey. several years ago my parents lived in Montgomery and whenever I cam back to visit your bakery was my 1st stop. Mom has since passed away and Dad lives in LeSueur now, but I still drive to Montgomery whenever I come back to stop at your bakery. You used to make a cookie that my Dad dearly loved. I don’t know what it was called but it was a chocolate ball rolled in coconut (I think it was shaped in a ball???? But it was for sure chocolate with coconut) I live in South Carolina and the last few times I have been back you have not had it. Do you know what I am referring to? If so, is there anyway I could get the name and possibly the receipe and I could make it and send to him. He misses them a lot” Also your ginger cookies…..YUM YUM!!!! No one makes cookies like you do?? Sincerely, JoAnn Junk from North Myrtle Beach, S.C.

    • JoAnn, it sounds like you possess a great fondness for Franke’s Bakery in Montgomery. Unfortunately, I cannot answer your questions because I am “just the blogger” writing about the bakery. I have nothing to do with its ownership. Your best option is to phone the bakery. Good luck.

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