It has been a recipe for success beyond anyone’s imagination. The reopening of Hans’ Bakery in Anoka not only rejuvenated a community. It helped restore a life.
“Nobody makes ’em like Hans’ makes ’em,” Mary Ann Kehn, 72, of Coon Rapids, said Tuesday as she devoured a raspberry Bismarck. “When I heard they were going to open, I couldn’t wait.”
Neither could Kelly Olsen, the new owner who resurrected Hans’ Bakery and her own life — one that has taken more turns than a cinnamon twist.
The new Hans’ Bakery started with 24 employees when it opened last month, after having gone into foreclosure four years ago and ultimately closing.
But Olsen said the place has been so popular — with an average of 850 customers daily — that she doubled her workforce this month. And Hans’ has coexisted on friendly terms with the new Swedish Crown Bakery, just 2 miles away, proving that a city without a chain supermarket can still support two bakeries.
When Hans’ opened its doors on Feb. 22, a three-deep line wrapped around the store lobby, prompting a visit from the fire marshal.
“Whenever a business closes in town, it’s always sad,” said customer Cheryl Orttel, 66, of Andover, who says her daughter once worked for the original Hans’. “But people took the closing of this bakery very personally.”
For nearly four decades, Hans’ Bakery was a mom-and-pop institution in Anoka. Hans Birkner brought to Minnesota recipes he’d learned as an apprentice baker in Germany. When he and his wife, Traudy, opened their bakery in 1973, customers were tantalized not only by the sweet aromas, but by a place that seemed the antithesis of corporate America.
It was a bakery where adults sipped coffee and stared down Texas-sized doughnuts and beehives while children wiped away chocolate mustaches. Olsen, 36, remembers staring at the display case with her mom before heading to preschool, unaware of the chocolate éclairs that later awaited her.
Those memories seemed so distant for Olsen in recent years. Working as a real estate broker, she was often forced to tell young hopefuls that they didn’t qualify for a mortgage.
“I was tired of being the worst part of everyone’s day,” she recalled.
She and her husband, Jeff Hettwer, an oil-paint artist and her high school sweetheart, found an almost ridiculous complement to her real estate career. She got a patent for prop cakes that people pop out of at parties.
“I got an order,” Olsen said. “A soldier had returned from Iraq and his wife didn’t know. He ordered a prop cake and popped out in front of his wife!
“I had found something that brought all this happiness,” Olsen said.
She launched an Internet site and was receiving orders from as far away as Australia.
Then in 2008, her husband was killed by a drunken driver.
Shocked and devastated, Olsen began speaking on behalf of Mothers Against Drunk Driving. She collected anecdotes for a book about people who have lost loved ones. She volunteered at schools.
But she needed something else, something completely different.
“I needed to connect with the community after Jeff passed away,” she said.
Comeback at the bakery
After Hans Birkner died in 1998, the bakery went through several owners before falling into foreclosure in 2010 and closing its doors.
With her childhood memories, 21st-century marketing savvy and old-fashioned roll-up-your-sleeves grit, Olsen set out to rebuild the bakery she could still smell in her dreams.
But the recipes had to be authentic. She met with former Hans’ employees. She recruited financial help, and, at the site, she personally pulled carpet and sanded walls.
She started a Hans’ Facebook page. With her sister, Lisa, Olsen appeared on the series premiere of “Buy This Restaurant.”
Hans’ fans could smell something they could savor.
“Anoka needs a meeting place like this,” Orttel said. “But thank goodness she got the original recipes.”
Olsen — who married Ben Olsen, a fishing guide, in 2012 — has visions of selling Hans’ famous beehives at the State Fair. Hans’ already sells T-shirts and buttons, and Olsen has ordered hats.
There are likely to be buyers. The bakery has been a magnet for people with a sweet tooth or seeking a place to share conversation and memories. Those big opening-day crowds seem to reappear each morning, around 6:30, says Olsen.
“We’ve been looking for a doughnut shop, and we’ve finally got one,” said Victor Chaney, 41, as son Joel, 4, prepared to do battle with a chocolate-covered doughnut nearly his size.
“Who knew it would be the best doughnut shop in the Twin Cities?”
Paul Levy • 612-673-4419