Minnesota Prairie Roots

Writing and photography by Audrey Kletscher Helbling

A bakery hit on Broadway September 5, 2014

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Bloedow's Bakery is located at 451 E. Broadway St. in Winona.

Bloedow’s Bakery is located at 451 E. Broadway St. in Winona.

I’VE HEARD REPEATEDLY just how fantastic the baked goods are from Bloedow’s Little Bake Shop on Broadway in Winona. But not until recently was I able to taste test and judge for myself.

I know what you're thinking, bacon on a pastry. But paired with maple icing, it works. This is one of Bloedow's most popular offerings.

I know what you’re thinking, bacon on a pastry. But paired with maple icing, it works. The maple long john is Bloedow’s top seller.

Everyone who has ever recommended Bloedow’s to me through the years is 100 percent correct. The bacon-topped, maple-iced long john and peanut butter and jelly filled bismarck my husband purchased were, by far, the best bakery sweet treats I’ve ever devoured. Well, we shared.

Some of the choices.

Some of the choices inside old-fashioned display cases.

I expect anything I would have tried from Bloedow’s would have rated five-star superior.

For me, it is the tenderness of the pastries that sets these apart from those made at other bakeries. You know what I mean, right? Sometimes long johns, doughnuts and such can be dry and tough. Not here. These are almost melt in your mouth tender.

This is one old-fashioned cozy bakery.

This is one old-fashioned cozy bakery.

You’ll bite into baked goods created from a family recipe that has been around since Ernest and Mary Bloedow opened their bakery in 1924. If you’ve got a good thing going, why change it? Hugh and Mary Polus now own the bakery.

On weekends a line often winds around the sidewalk at this corner bakery. I’m not surprised. These pastries are worth the wait. They are that good.

© Copyright 2014 Audrey Kletscher Helbling

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Sweet finds in Montgomery, Part III: Inside the bakery & the drugstore April 12, 2013

Franke's Bakery opened in 1914.

Franke’s Bakery opened in 1914.

NO VISIT TO MONTGOMERY would be complete without a stop at Franke’s Bakery, noted for kolacky, a fruit-filled (or poppy seed-filled) pastry beloved by this community of mostly Czech descendants.

One busy place on a Saturday.

One busy place on a Saturday. To the left, Jule Franke and Mary Ann Kaisersatt work the counter.

In business for 99 years, this bakery bustles with customers dropping in for sweet treats, breads and coffee room chat.

This 18-month-old Montgomery resident stopped in with her dad, grandma and sister for a treat Saturday morning.

This 18-month-old Montgomery resident stopped in with her dad, grandma and sister for a treat Saturday morning.

“You just missed your dad,” noted a baker parceling out sweets to a customer on a recent Saturday morning. “I saw him on the street.”

The tiled exterior entry to Franke's with a sign on the lower part of the door reading: "Kolacky Days Celebration  Czechoslovakian American Heritage.

The beautiful exterior entry to Franke’s with a sign on the lower part of the door that reads: “Kolacky Days Celebration Czechoslovakian-American Heritage.” Montgomery celebrates Kolacky Days each July. You can bet this bakery is especially busy then preparing the ethnic pastry for the celebration.

Yes, this bakery, this south-central Minnesota community, is that kind of place, where everybody seemingly knows everybody and their whereabouts. And I mean that in the kindest of ways.

My Bavarian bismarck. FYI, Franke's ships its baked goods, so feel free to order. The bakery makes this promise: "We bake our breads and rolls fresh everyday the old fashioned way without all those preservatives.

My Bavarian bismarck. FYI, Franke’s ships its baked goods, so feel free to order. The bakery makes this promise: “We bake our breads and rolls fresh everyday the old fashioned way without all those preservatives.”

Randy and I bopped in for 75-cent bismarcks, mine Bavarian (custard-filled), his raspberry, before continuing our perusal of Montgomery’s downtown business district.

Posted on businesses throughout downtown Montgomery, you will find photos and military biios of veterans. This is the Montgomery Veteran's Project, a way of honor the town's veterans.

Posted on businesses throughout downtown Montgomery, you will find photos and military biios of veterans. This is the Montgomery Veteran’s Project, a way of honor the town’s veterans.

When I noticed the lovely floral sign marking Herrmann (how non-Czech is that name?) Drug, Cards & Gifts, I just had to stop at this local pharmacy and general merchandise store marketing everything from shampoo to kitchenware to gifts and Titans school apparel.

The drugstore sells Titans apparel for the local school.

The drugstore sells Titans apparel for the Montgomery-Lonsdale-Le Center school, Tri-City United.

My husband insisted I photograph these "made in China" towels from American Mills. He wants me to submit this to Jay Leno.

My husband insisted I photograph these “Made in China” towels from American Mills and sold at Herrmann Drug. He wants me to submit this to Jay Leno.

I was impressed with the selection; no need to run to some Big Box store when you have Herrmann Drug. And how lucky this town of nearly 3,000 is to have a pharmacy…and so much more.

Herrmann Drug's pharmacy is located at the rear of the store.

Herrmann Drug’s pharmacy is located at the rear of the store.

READERS: We’re not finished yet with our tour of Montgomery. Check back for two more posts. And if you missed my Montgomery stories from earlier this week, backtrack to Sunday and start reading.

To read a previous post on Franke’s Bakery, click here.

And to read about the Montgomery Veteran’s Project, click here.

© Copyright 2013 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.

 

Transforming an historic building into Seven Sisters Coffee, a community gathering spot & more in rural Minnesota October 23, 2012

This 1892 former bank building and 95-year bakery anchoring a corner of Lamberton’s Main Street is being renovated into Seven Sisters Coffee by a young couple with connections to this area of southwestern Minnesota. After the business opens, the upstairs will be renovated into loft style apartments.

DAVID AND MICHELLE can see beyond the crumbling mortar, the moisture damage, the buckling floor boards, the teal paint.

Just barely into major renovation of an historic 1892 bank building and former long-time bakery in downtown Lamberton, this couple is thoughtfully and methodically working toward their summer 2013 goal of opening Seven Sisters Coffee.

This shows the side and back view of the building, with the rear part added on to the original. Soot from a 2005 fire, which destroyed Plum Creek Crafts next door, mars the brick. Behind the building, a tree was removed and plans are to install a patio area for outdoor dining. They saved a slice of the tree to build a table.

Even the name, Seven Sisters, holds special significance for the pair as Michelle is one of seven sisters and three brothers who grew up in Lamberton, a strong agricultural community of 822 in Redwood County on the southwestern Minnesota prairie. Additionally, Michelle notes that Seven Sisters possesses multiple meanings—in Greek mythology, astronomy and even as a mountain range.

The old sign for the former Sanger’s Bakery still graces the building.

The couple may, perhaps, feel at times as if they are scaling a mountain to reach their goal of establishing a combination cafe, coffee shop and entertainment venue in the 1,900 square foot first floor of the 8,000 square foot brick building. But they are purposeful and focused and driven every week to travel 2 ½ hours from their home to proceed with their project on the prairie.

Michelle and David  are keeping the original candy and bakery goods counters and the vintage cabinet, photographed here in the front part of the building. This area of the former bank and bakery will house the cafe and soda fountain. The couple discovered a dumb waiter hidden in the area behind them in the corner.

David envisions Seven Sisters as “an artistic haven as well as a community space.” He expects “townies,” he says, to frequent the front Main Street side of the building, the bright and cheery cafe section offering a full breakfast and lunch menu and ice cream treats from a soda fountain.

Fifty loaves of bread could be baked in this 1960s vintage two-ton rotary oven. It occupies much of the space in the middle room which will become a cozy coffee shop. This room and the front former bakery/soda fountain area were painted teal after Bob’s niece first chose that hue for the bathroom. Bob loved the color so much that he painted the rest of the place teal. The color has been on the walls for 50 years. No, they are not keeping the teal color.

An oversized mixer also occupies space in the middle room.

The smaller middle section, once a post office entry, baking area and even home to the Sanger family, will be transformed into a warm and intimate coffee shop.

The back room, with focal point brick walls, will become an entertainment venue and artists’ haven.

And in the rear area of exposed brick walls, David expects artists and others to hang out in a more energetic and modern New York loft style space devoted to music and art and private event rental.

Tour this building, inside and out, with David and Michelle and you can see the overwhelming amount of work, inside and out, that needs to be done before Seven Sisters becomes a reality in a community already embracing the business venture.

Locals as well as those living in neighboring towns such as Revere, Jeffers and Tracy and even farther away in the regional hub city of Marshall are ecstatic about Seven Sisters, David says.

Original coffee cups and Bob Sanger’s special cup are stacked under the lunch counter.

The older gas burners Bob Sanger apparently used to make coffee, etc.

When locals George and Vern, for example, stop by to check on the renovation, David invites them inside for coffee. The two were coffee klatsch buddies of Bob Sanger, long-time bakery owner who died in March. Sanger purchased the bakery from his father, Nick, in 1961. Between Bob, Nick and previous owner, Martin Kuhar, the building has housed a bakery in the First National Bank building for 95 years.

A vintage photo of bakery owner Bob Sanger who died in March at the age of 80.

A vintage photo of the First National Bank.

Says David of his and Michelle’s decision to purchase the former bakery after Bob Sanger’s death:

The building is positively gorgeous and has a fascinating history. We had admired it for some time. The quality of the construction is superior to similar buildings of that era. We’ve always talked about opening our own business and the location and timing were right.

Our review of the local economy and the needs of the surrounding area indicates a very strong potential for growth and a serious need for a business of this kind. By offering excellence in service in three different approaches (cafe, coffee shop, event space) we will offset some of the inherent risk of this type of business. In short, it was a perfect confluence of events. We got lucky.

The pair is determined also to buy local as much as possible. Dry goods will come from Griffith’s Grocery across the street. They plan to work with Brau Brothers Brewing and Fieldstone Vineyards, located in the region. They’ll grow their own herbs.

It is clear in talking to David and Michelle that they appreciate the historic gem they’ve purchased.

A section of this original lunch counter built by Bob Sanger will be refurbished and topped with granite.

They’re attempting, they say, to retain as much of the natural charm as possible. For example, they plan to refurbish the soda fountain built by Bob; relocate an original bank fireplace facade and tile into the coffee shop and install an electric fireplace; refinish the wood floors; keep the tin ceiling; reuse the candy and bakery counters; restore an old player piano; and more.

Wooden floors, like this behind the lunch counter, run throughout the building. In one section, however, where the bank vault once stood, the floor is made of pipestone granite.

This shows a section of the original tin ceiling in the front part of the building. Ceilings are a lofty 12 and one-half feet high.

Plans are to move the facade and tile from the this original First National Bank fireplace into the coffee shop, which David will manage. 

The couple is also uncovering and sifting through collectible treasures like WW I and WW II artifacts, signage, rocks, and more accumulated by Bob. So much was damaged though, beyond saving, by moisture problems in the building, David says. But they are saving what they can, possibly incorporating some of their treasures into Seven Sisters.

A pile of recently found treasures.

Among the old books uncovered was this one on poultry. Bob Sanger kept a flock of 100 chickens at his house, Michelle says. He used the eggs at his bakery and also sold eggs.

Another find, a vintage bomber transport chart damaged by water, like many of the old items found in the building.

Inedible silver cake decorating balls remain from Bob’s days of baking wedding cakes.

The couple found empty candy boxes (pictured here) and candy still in boxes inside the former bakery.

Michelle has fond memories of coming to Sanger’s for sweet treats. She remembers penny Tootsie Rolls and gumballs and candy cigarettes sold at the candy counter:

Thinking about the hundreds of people who have memories of this building, I really hope we can fill that same role for the next generations.

FYI: Lamberton is located along U.S. Highway 14 about 10 miles east of Walnut Grove, childhood home of Laura Ingalls Wilder, author of the Little House children’s book series. The area is a strong draw for summer tourists interested in Wilder’s books and the Little House on the Prairie television series set in Walnut Grove.

© Copyright 2012 Audrey Kletscher Helbling

 

Off I-94: Artsy Fergus Falls June 17, 2011

The vintage-looking sign on the side of a building in downtown Fergus Falls caught my attention. The Market sells a variety of merchandise from kitchen to bath and body, garden and home accent products and lots more.

UNTIL LAST SATURDAY, I’d never entered Fergus Falls, only driven past this west central Minnesota community along I-94 en route to the Dakotas. After miles and miles of interstate travel, the towns don’t seem to matter any more. On the fringes, one seems like the other—just another rest break, a place to tank up on gas or a quick stop for a bite to eat.

Sadly, that marks the reality of today’s fast-paced, get from point A to point B, world.

But then one day you have a reason to pull off the four-lane, to explore one of these interstate-side communities and you discover a town with a personality and identity, and you wonder why you have not come here before this day.

And so that is how I found Fergus Falls, population 14,500, when I traveled there last weekend to view my Roadside Poetry Project poem displayed on four billboards. (My spring poem has since been replaced by a summer poem.)

After photographing my poem and dining at the downtown Viking Café (click here to read my earlier post on this vintage restaurant), I explored this Otter Tail County seat with my husband, Randy.

Certainly, we saw only a small portion of this riverside town. But I toured enough of Fergus Falls to come up with a single word to describe it: artistic.

I wonder if the folks who live in Fergus also see their hometown as an art community. Or would they choose another word to describe their town?

Here are photos to back up my word selection.

Knit graffiti circled a tree downtown. Bottlecaps were strung on another tree by this one. What a simple and memorable art idea.

Fergus Falls Summerfest happened to be on when we were in town. Here's one section of the event.

Clear Lake, S.D., artist Karlys Wells of Back Porch Art created this gourd art, among my favorite art at the fair.

Even signage can be art, like this on a downtown bakery.

Call it art, or something else, but this Rice Krispie cake in a bakery window display made me laugh out loud.

Kaddatz Galleries, a nonprofit art gallery, showcases the work of Charles Beck and other local artists.

Woodcuts and woodblock prints by one of Minnesota's most-recognized artists, Charles Beck of Fergus Falls. His subjects are the landscapes and nature of Otter Tail County. Until I walked into this gallery, I do not recall having ever heard of Beck. His earthy, rural art appeals to me.

I was impressed with the number of visitors in the Kaddatz Galleries.

The doors to the Fergus Theatre were locked, or I would most definitely have gone inside. The vintage exterior adds so much to the charm of downtown Fergus Falls.

I am a big fan of vintage signs for the character they add to a community.

SO HAVE I CONVINCED you to pull off I-94 in west central Minnesota and explore Fergus Falls? Fergus lies 2 1/2 hours northwest of Minneapolis/St. Paul, mighty close to Fargo, N.D.

Here are several websites to check out and learn more about some of the places highlighted in my photos and story:

www.VisitFergusFalls.com

www.kaddatzgalleries.org

www.fergusarts.org

www.fergusfallssummerfest.com

www.roadsidepoetry.org

www.marketfergusfalls.com

Copyright 2011 Audrey Kletscher Helbling

 

A sweet treasure in downtown Lamberton March 9, 2011

DRIVE INTO ANY SMALL TOWN, U.S.A., and you’ll likely discover a treasure that the locals take for granted.

For instance, in Lamberton, Minnesota, I recently spotted a vintage sign on a beautiful brick building along the town’s main drag. I didn’t have much time to investigate as the guys in the car were anxious to keep moving. But we stopped long enough for me to snap a few photos and peer through the front window and door of Sanger’s Bakery.

 

This sign, suspended from Sanger's Bakery, first drew me to the building.

Inside, time stood still. An old 7-UP clock hung on the wall behind empty glass bakery cases fronted by one vintage stool (that I could see). Boxes of candy sat on the counter. I almost expected the baker aka ice cream and candy seller to walk into view, open the door and let me inside.

That, of course, was wishful thinking.

The bakery is closed, although men gather here in the morning for coffee, I’m told. You won’t find doughnuts or cinnamon rolls or loaves of freshly-baked bread, just coffee and conversation at the coffee klatsch.

Now, if I had discretionary cash, I’d buy this place, spiff it up a bit, but not too much to ruin its charming character, and reopen the combination bakery, ice cream parlor and candy store.

I could see the possibilities in that weathered sign, in the stunning brick building and in that single, empty stool.

 

The bakery's front window.

The bakery sits on a corner. I took this building side view through the closed window of the car, after we had driven around the block.

An up-close shot of the lettering on the bakery I wish was still open.

IF YOU KNOW ANYTHING about Sanger’s Bakery or have memories of patronizing this business, please submit a comment. I’d like to learn more about this former bakery which I consider a small-town treasure.

© Copyright 2011 Audrey Kletscher Helbling