When Kelly Olsen stood up on Hans’ Bakery’s opening day to announce to a full house that she had sold out of baked goods, everyone cheered.
A room full of people who had just been told that they would not get the doughnuts and pastries they had come for — after they had braved slippery roads and frigid weather the day after a snowstorm — cheered and hugged each other.
That’s how happy, it seems, the entire town of Anoka is to have Hans’ Bakery back.
Hans’ Bakery reopened in Anoka under Olsen’s ownership on Saturday, February 22. The bakery, owned by German immigrants Hans and Traudy Birkner from 1973 until Hans’ death in 1998, had sat empty since 2010.
Olsen has no restaurant or bakery experience, but she got a little help from the Food Network show “Buy This Restaurant,” which featured her quest for a bakery on its first episode. She is also working with experienced bakers who have the original recipes for Hans’ beloved beehives (layered honey pastries), gigantic Texas doughnuts, buns, breads and other baked goods. The menu is huge, and every item seems to have its own partisans.
We visited on 8:30 on Sunday morning, the day after opening day, and found a line of happy, patient people curling tightly around the inside of the building in three loops. They, like us, were counting the pastries in the case, counting the people ahead of them, and crossing their fingers.
Kelly found time to chat with us about the bakery later in the week.
What first inspired you to become a bakery owner?
I lost my husband in a car accident in 2008 to a drunk driver. At the time, I was a real estate broker, and the market had taken a turn for the worse. I told my family, “I’m tired of being the worst part of someone’s day. I had to tell so many people, ‘I’m sorry you can’t sell your house for what you need.’”
But I have another side business as well; I sell cake props for people to jump out of at parties. So, on the one side I had this really negative thing and on the other I had something really positive. I thought to myself, you only live once, and decided to focus on the positive.
How did you find Hans’?
The search was not a really long one. I remembered my family taking me to Hans’ as a kid and what a treat it felt to get fresh baked goods. I’m from Blaine, but I went to preschool a block from here. We would come to Anoka to go to the food co-op and to go to Hans’.
My mom told me a story about how my parents would come and get a box of doughnuts to bring home, but they would always ask for the chocolate eclairs in a separate bag, just for them, so they could eat them in peace. My mom is still waiting for the return of the chocolate eclair.
It all started with finding the right people. I connected with one of the bakers who had worked here for 23 years. When we walked into the bakery together, it was a shambles. She had tears in her eyes. It was like her home — and to see it like that was hard.
Hans and Traudy had real pride. But when it was passed on to future owners it felt like that pride went away.
How much remodeling did you have to do?
We closed the sale at the end of May and hoped to open in September. Ha! The challenges were unique because the building was built in 1965 and remodeled in 1973.
The remodel was really me and my dad and my cousin ripping the carpet out and things like that. I sanded the beams. We even turned the original bakers table into a community table in the center of the restaurant.
How has the community responded?
The response has been unbelievable. I don’t think I’ve ever cried more happy tears than I did on opening day. I’ve had people send flowers. A lady sent a check for $100 to pay it forward. A woman whose husband grew up on the property brought old pictures of what it looked like then and the original building.
We knew we were onto something special when my mom and I were standing in the parking lot painting and people driving by would honk and cheer.
We visited at 8:30 a.m. on Sunday, the day after you opened, and the line wrapped in a tight spiral around the room. I was shocked.
We originally had over 400 sheet pans, but we were baking at capacity and not even making it close to closing time. I’ve purchased four additional racks and 200 additional pans. We have new plans in place to have bakers at night and a new shift in the day.
How did you end up on TV?
I was contacted about being involved in Buy This Restaurant on the Food Network. It was a really great experience. They were incredibly knowledgeable and had lots of advice for us. Like I said, I’m a real estate agent, but I do about 75 percent residential and 25 percent commercial, and I had never sold a restaurant before.
The host, Keith Simpson, sat down with me to talk about numbers and seat counts and how that translates into a profitable business. There are so many bakeries going out of business. People get nostalgic about the business, but you have to make sure you can survive.
What sorts of things did you learn?
Keith asked, “What’s unique about you that people can’t get anywhere else?” I realized you can go to 50 coffee shops downtown, but what’s unique about Hans’ cannot be recreated.
A gentlemen stood in line Saturday morning [opening day]. When we opened the doors at 6 a.m. everyone rushed to the register, but he rushed to the back table where his grandma used to take him. More happy tears.
Wait a minute. You had a line at 6 a.m.? In this weather?
I sent my mom out there at 5:30 to bring them coffee because it was so cold.
I went to the Obama inauguration, and — no matter what your politics — there were 1 million happy people there. Even though it was crowded, everyone was in such a good mood. That’s what it reminded me of.
People were holding the door for each other. My husband saw an older couple coming in with their walkers and walked them over and sat them at the table and got them their pastries on the house. That’s what we want to be building.
So, what comes next for you and Hans’?
Well, my phone is ringing off the hook for cake orders for special occasions.
We would love to bring our beehive to the State Fair, but first we’re trying to get caught up with what we have here. We’ve had a number of wholesale accounts reach out to us. We’re making our retail customers our top priority and then we’ll deal with that.
Are you still in the real estate business?
This is taking every minute of my time. I got here Thursday [before opening day] at 9 a.m. and went home Saturday at 2. I was ringing at the till and having trouble taping someone’s box shut and I would just tell them, “Sorry, I’m new here.”
We didn’t get our food handlers license until 5 o’clock on Friday night. I had to go pick up a refrigerated truck and I’m driving this semi into our parking lot so we could store things their until we were officially allowed to bring them in.
We sold out on Saturday at 11 a.m. and on Sunday at 10. I was so nervous when I hand to stand up and announce that we had sold out. But all the people who were waiting in line cheered. They hugged and clapped. It was like we won the Super Bowl or something.
I just want to give the biggest thank you that words can express. I think I called in a favor from every person I know at some point. The contractors, bakers, all of the employees — they’ve put as much of themselves into this as I have.
It’s been a great ride and I hope to be here for a long time.
Hans’ Bakery, 1423 5th Ave, Anoka, MN 55303; 763.421.4200