Most people do not like to take their work home with them. Steve Nelson, a baker in St. Joseph, Minn., is not one of those people.
Most people do not like to take their work home with them. Steve Nelson, a baker in St. Joseph, Minn., is not one of those people. After two years of leasing production space for his Collegeville Artisan Bakery, Nelson built a bakery in his backyard.
He built the space to maximize energy efficiency in heating and cooling to deal with Minnesota temperature fluctuations. The building employs in-floor heating, which helps him save on electric bills. The space also features many windows, enough to make lighting during the day unnecessary. “Coming from a tenant position where we had no windows or natural light, the glass is a real treat,” Nelson said.
Collegeville is a two-person operation. Nelson does most of the baking, and his wife, MaryAnn Friedrichs, handles most of the selling. The business is unique in that it operates with a 90 percent farmers' market customer base. The production facility adjoins the garage, so product goes from the cooling racks to the trucks for delivery to the farmers' markets. They produce between 200 and 300 loaves of bread and 400 to 600 croissants on any given market day.
“In the summer time, which is peak time for farmers' markets, Tuesday through Saturday, we go to six markets, each opening at 3 o'clock,” he says. “For five months, we don't get a day off. It's a marathon doing the markets in the summer. We've been doing that three years, though, and it's very satisfying for us.”
Their vigorous pace during the summer season and focus on quality bread and pastries has earned them a devoted local clientele who didn't seem to mind making the leap to the new backyard location. Nelson's bakery is only open for retail shoppers on Fridays, and he doesn't expend a lot of effort on displays. Nelson just wheels the baking rack to the front of the space, so customers can see and smell the products. He says that customers are used to buying them from baskets or even cardboard boxes at farmers' markets, so fancy displays aren't necessary.
After the pace of summer retailing slows down, Nelson offers baking classes. Currently, he teaches fundamentals of bread baking, fundamentals of laminated dough, and decorated breads. Customers also can arrange for a Twin Cities “bakery crawl,” a tour of Minneapolis area bread and pastry bakeries.
“Our bakery is a blend of pretty hard baking for a number of months in the summer, then we back off, regenerate, concentrate on the art, the science, the classes and other things,” Nelson said. “It's so neat and unusual, I love having this cycle, and now that I'm at home, it's even better.” If nothing else, the commute is a breeze.