Andrej's European Pastry at a glance
Location: Chisholm, Minn.
Jan Gadzo converted a former shoe store into a 990-sq.-ft. bakery.
Andrej's potica requires primarily hands-on production.
While potica accounts for 99% of sales, Andrej's also offers kolaches and cinnamon buns.
Jan Gadzo credits his wife, Jean, for his second career in baking, producing potica, kolaches and cinnamon rolls that are sold around the world through mail order.
Freshly ground walnuts, flour and butter are the basic ingredients in potica.
There's a lot to be said for doing one thing, and doing it very well. Take Mick Jagger, for instance, still rocking with the Rolling Stones at age 60. Or Frederic Chopin, who spent most of his 39 years creating musical masterpieces on piano. Then there's Frank Lloyd Wright, a visionary architect who continued to revolutionize his field for more than 70 years. And, there's Jan Gadzo and his potica.
Gadzo, owner of Andrej's European Pastry in Chisholm, Minn., is an all-potica, all-the-time bakery. While he does make a few other products, Gadzo knows not to stray too far off course. Potica, pronounced poteesa, is a hand-rolled, buttery, sweet bread filled with walnuts. Potica hails from Gadzo's native Czechoslovakia, but it has cousins in just about every Eastern European country.
Secret is in the walnuts
Gadzo credits the quality of the walnuts he uses as the reason behind much of his success. A supplier from California called him and Gadzo agreed to buy 5 lbs. of walnuts as a test. "I'll tell you when I opened that package and smelled the walnuts, I was back home in Czechoslovakia, breaking open the walnuts by hand," Gadzo says.
Gadzo makes his potica the way it was done in the old country¯no short cuts in production or on ingredients. And, with profits doubling every year since he started his business in 2000, it is clear Gadzo is doing something right.
Gadzo can thank his wife, Jean, for his second career as a baker. Trained as a facilities engineer, 54-year-old Gadzo spent the first half of his career in industrial and institutional settings. In 1979, on a cross-country drive from New Jersey to Minnesota, he and Jean stopped at his aunt's house in Pittsburgh. "She gave us a couple loaves of potica for the road," Gadzo says. "Even though we'd just had breakfast, Jean asked me to stop for coffee, so she could eat the potica." The potica never made it to Minnesota, and Gadzo called his aunt for the recipe.
As it turns out, Jean was not the only one who liked the sweet treat. After tweaking the recipe a little, Gadzo sent loaves to the hospital where his wife worked, brought the potica to his own job and gave it to friends as gifts. "People started asking me if they could buy it," he recalls. A blue ribbon and being named grand champion in the culinary division at the St. Louis county fair was another sign that Gadzo's potica was something special.
During the holidays, he would bake at night for two weeks straight in his home kitchen and sell enough potica to pay for a winter's worth of fuel oil and a freezer full of fresh meat. Jean, and later son Andrej (for whom the business is named), ground the walnuts, and he baked six loaves at a time, about 42 loaves a day. Then Gadzo would deliver the bread, go to his regular job and start all over again.
In 2000, Gadzo launched his business from an addition to his home, which was a state-licensed bakery. The following year, he leased a storefront in downtown Chisholm. The former shoe store is compact, only 990 sq. ft., which includes a 240-sq.-ft. retail area. Andrej's European Pastry produced 18,600 loaves in fiscal 2003, up from 4000 loaves in 2000. Sales jumped from $45,000 to $129,000 in the same period. And, Gadzo only bakes three days a week. During the holiday season, he bumped up production to 1,500 loaves of potica per week.
With wholesale accounting for 99 percent of sales, Gadzo spends a good part of his time attending bakery shows and making sales calls. On weekends, he visits grocery stores and delis sampling his products. The bakery mail orders to 46 states and promotes itself on a Web site, www.poticawalnut.com.
But it was a twist of fate that helped Gadzo land his largest customer in 2001. His son's college roommate's mother tasted the potica when she visited her son and told Gadzo his product belonged in Lunds and Byerly's, an upscale grocery chain in the Twin Cities. She directed him to the chain's director of bakery operations. "I went to see him with the potica. After sampling it, he gave us the opportunity to demo the product at various locations. For the next three months, we periodically demo'd with exceptional results. Lunds/Byerly's has become our largest customer."
Gadzo also is working with an area distributor, which distributes his product in a 100-mile radius of Hibbing, Minn. Each 1-lb. loaf is priced at $5.99 wholesale, and retails for $8.99 to $11.99.
The product lends itself to wide distribution. Although it is made with no preservatives, potica has a natural shelf life of three weeks and travels well. Gadzo's customers tell him that loaves sent to service men and women in Afghanistan and Iraq tasted as good as the day they were made.
The potica itself is simple and unadorned. Flour, butter, freshly ground walnuts and a few other secret ingredients are mixed three days a week starting at 6 a.m. The dough is not proofed, but rests at room temperature until it is baked. By 8 a.m., four batches are ready to roll out, with each batch producing 20 loaves. Three employees help with the rolling, and Gadzo mans the oven. By 2 p.m., about 200 loaves are baked. Two local high school students come in after school to help with the packaging. One box contains 16 loaves.
"We make everything fresh every day. Nothing is frozen," Gadzo says.
Gadzo has had to make some procedural adjustments over time. He originally made the potica in 11/2-lb. loaves, but found that 1-lb. loaves sold better. And, his wife had a brainstorm about packaging. "We originally sent the potica out in plastic bags," Gadzo says. "But when we'd check the stores, the potica would be a little crushed. So Jean thought of putting them in clam shell containers, still wrapped in plastic with our label on the bag. They're easier to stack and pack, and our customers are much happier."
Keeping the store's label on the plastic bag is a brand reminder, since the bag stays around long after the outer container has been thrown away.
While business is growing steadily, Gadzo has some big ideas for expansion beyond his current customers. He has a potica master plan.
"I want to offer potica franchises," Gadzo says. "It's a gold mine for existing bakeries who already have the equipment and staff in place. In a year or two, you'd make back the franchise fee. After that, it's all profit." He would train and provide formulas and help with marketing.
On the home front, he's experimenting with using a poppy seed filling for the potica, a daring move sure to capture the hearts of Polish immigrants and Polish-Americans everywhere. "For so many people, potica tastes like home," he says. "It's that simple."
|Potica, 1 lb||$5.99|
|Cheese kolache, 4 ozs.||$0.75|
|Walnut cinnamon rolls, 5 ozs||$0.90|