Minnesota Prairie Roots

Writing and photography by Audrey Kletscher Helbling

Update: Without financing, couple’s dream of opening a rural Minnesota coffee shop ends July 19, 2013

The former Sanger's Bakery, back on the market and photographed last week.

The former Sanger’s Bakery building, back on the market and photographed last week.

FOR DAVID AND MICHELLE, the dream of opening a coffee shop in an historic 1892 building in Michelle’s hometown of Lamberton in southwestern Minnesota has become just that, a dream.

About three weeks ago the old bank and long-time Sanger’s Bakery property, purchased last year by the couple, went back on the market. It was a move necessitated by an inability to secure financing for restoration of the massive brick building.

The Van Engens had planned to use the original lunch counter in their coffee shop. Minnesota Prairie Roots file photo from October 2012.

The original plan called for using the original lunch counter in the coffee shop. Minnesota Prairie Roots file photo from October 2012.

They had planned to open Seven Sisters Coffee as a local eatery, community gathering spot, entertainment center and artists’ haven this summer in this community of 820 residents along the Laura Ingalls Wilder Historic Highway in southern Redwood County.

The Van Engens began working on this back space last fall in an area intended for entertainment and an artists' haven.

The couple began work last year on this back room intended for entertainment and an artists’ haven.

The pair made numerous attempts, David says, to secure funding through several banks, all of which eventually classified the planned coffee shop as a restaurant and thus would not approve financing. Likewise, agencies such as the Redwood Area Development Corporation and local business coalitions could not provide the level of funding needed for the restoration, he says.

An Iraq War veteran, David is disappointed by what he perceives as a lack of support from the Veterans Administration and the Small Business Administration, through which he was working:

“We had completed exhaustive research on equipment, renovation, overhead, etc. All of the banks and organizations said our business plan and loan proposal were better researched and prepared than anything they had seen before.

The restoration and research was a joy. There is an enormous amount of history in that building. The end came as a dark and bitter disappointment. My wife and I are both hard-working, industrious people. Between her professional marketing acumen and my passion and skill sets; I thought we had a sure thing. The numbers were good…”

David and Michelle posed behind the original candy counter last fall. Michelle has sweet memories of coming here for candy as a child. Minnesota Prairie Roots file photo.

David and Michelle pose behind the original candy counter last fall. Michelle has sweet memories of coming here for candy as a child. Minnesota Prairie Roots file photo.

Having met the pair last October during a tour of the historic building, I, too, thought if anyone could succeed, this enthusiastic and ambitious couple could. They were, at the time of my visit, sorting through 80 years of accumulated possessions inside the old bakery and have since removed hazardous materials, repaired the roof of the 3,250 square foot two-story structure and more.

The yellow sign in the front window advertises the property for sale through Scenic City Realty.

The yellow sign in the front window advertises the property for sale through Scenic City Realty.

A peek inside the old bakery last Saturday revealed half-painted walls and further restoration halted and that “for sale” sign posted on the front window.

“The coffee shop was a nice dream,” David says, “but it will have to wait for now. Despite the outcome, it was a good learning experience.”

To possess that positive attitude after months of hard work and time and money invested in the couple’s dream impresses me.

A side view of the massive building.

A side view of the massive historic building.

FYI: I spoke with Mike Kaufenberg, the broker/realtor who has the old bank/bakery listed at $37,000 with Redwood Falls based Scenic City Realty.

The building, he says, would provide a great place for a retail and online antiques business with room for additional retail and/or office space. Some antiques remain in the building and are part of the property offering. Two apartments are located on the second floor and could provide rental income.

To see the complete listing, click here.

I think this historic building has many possibilities for reuse, if you have the vision, drive, passion, time, energy and money. How would you reuse this building?

© Copyright 2013 Audrey Kletscher Helbling


What would you do with this old bakery in Lamberton? May 31, 2012

The former Sanger’s Bakery in Lamberton, a Minnesota farming community. I’d move the garbage bin in front of the building, replace it with a bench and add pots of vivid flowers.

I’VE PHOTOGRAPHED many an old building in a lot of small towns. My appreciation for history and architecture and for rural life keep drawing me back to Main Street.

One building in particular intrigues me. The former Sanger’s Bakery, a brick stronghold anchoring a corner in downtown Lamberton in southern Redwood County, possesses a sweet, timeless charm that causes it to stand out.

How long has this signage been painted on the front window of Sanger’s?

It’s not necessarily the exterior that catches my eye, although certainly the signage and sweeping arched front window and the fancy details in the brick appeal to me. Rather, it’s the interior which truly captures my interest.

The two times I’ve photographed the exterior, I’ve also paused to press my nose against the windows and peer inside to a snapshot of the past. You would swear the hands on the vintage 7-UP clock have not moved in decades. An old-fashioned candy counter and vintage lunch counter rimmed with stools look like something straight out of a Norman Rockwell painting.

A vintage sign suspended from the front of the bakery.

Honestly, you just don’t find places like this anymore. Martin Kuhar opened the bakery in 1928. The Sanger family purchased it in 1946 and eventually Bob, the youngest of Nick and Mary’s six children, bought the business in 1961. He was a 1955 graduate of the baking program at Dunwoody Institute.

All of this I learned on a recent stop at the bakery, where I found Bob’s obituary taped to the front door. He died March 30.

Just days before his death, this long-time baker was serving coffee to his friends. Oh, how I wish I could have been in that coffee klatch, listening to the stories.

I bet Bob would have shared plenty about the place where he served up baked goods, hand-scooped ice cream cones, malts and candy. He baked buns for local schools and churches and crafted wedding cakes. He also sold fresh eggs from his chickens and honey from his bees. He tended a garden.

After reading Bob’s obit, I desired even more to get into the bakery. I jiggled the front door knob, hoping the door might be unlocked. It wasn’t. I’m determined, on my next trip to Lamberton, to get inside the bakery, to share with you this treasure from the past.

In the meantime, owners of this building and Lamberton area residents, I hope you appreciate what you have here. I could easily see this former bakery reopened as an ice cream/sandwich/pie/coffee/gift shop. The location along U.S. Highway 14 only 10 miles from Walnut Grove, childhood home of author Laura Ingalls Wilder, is ideal. The area already draws plenty of tourists during the summer months.

The right owner, with the right ideas, a good business and marketing plan, and adept at using social media could turn this old bakery into a destination.

I can envision the possibilities.

Readers, what do you think? If anyone out there knows anything about plans for the old bakery, submit a comment. Or, if you simply have ideas, I’d like to hear those, too.

A side shot of the former bakery. Just imagine the possibilities for this spacious building. Let’s hear your ideas.

© Copyright 2012 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