By Bruce Karnick
It has been a long time coming. Emily’s Bakery and Deli closed its doors at the end of November 2021. After more than 100 years of baking excellence in Hastings, the town was without a local bakery. News of the closing spread far and wide, and rumors of a new buyer spread even faster.
The news of the closing crushed many area residents. People started online petitions to save Emily’s. Social media campaigns popped up encouraging local residents to buy it. Fast forward to April 2022, and Wuollet Bakery became the new owner of the bakery officially. As soon as the announcement came that there was a new owner of Emily’s, people began to create the ideal picture in their head of what the bakery will be.
The former owner of Emily’s, Noreen Bishop tried to set the expectations for folks as she was handing the keys to the new owners.
“It’s going to be a bakery and it’s going to be their bakery,” explained Bishop in her interview for the April 6 edition of The Journal. “It’s not going to be Emily’s. That’s what people need to understand is that it’s their stuff, not our stuff. They have all of our recipes, that’s part of what they got in the sale, all of our recipes. What they choose to do with those recipes is entirely up to them.”
Whatever they come up with, it’s certainly delicious! This reporter joined a crowd at the new Hastings Wuollet Bakery in the former Emily’s spot at 1212 Vermillion St. Friday to learn that firsthand.
“We are going to focus on having the highest quality products here in our store made with the best ingredients,” explained owner Eric Shogren. “We know there are products people love, and we’ll try to do some of the very best of those. We won’t be able to keep all those old things because that’s why they had 20 people working in the back and that’s why they just couldn’t do it anymore. But some of the best ones? Yes, we will try to work those in. Like we had here yesterday, we had the almond tarts. We are going to have to alter those because it’s not very functional. They did them in batches of 48, I don’t do anything in a batch of 48, so we need to figure that out. The main issue is the molds they used for them. You can’t get them anymore, like I said, we are working on making that better.”
They are also planning on using many of the bread recipes. Some of the things, like the “prison bars” may be a seasonal item due to the warm temps in the summer. But Shogren is paying attention and listening to feedback from customers on the popular items.
“We want to get more retail space in here to get more grabandgo which is becoming more and more important. Once people have been here multiple times, they will know what they like and they can grab it,” added Shogren.
If you walk into the newest Wuollet Bakery (there are six other locations) with an open mind, excited that Hastings has a local bakery with high quality products, you will be very pleased.
The plan for the bakery is to be open seven days a week from 7 a.m. to 3 p.m. The bakery side is currently the only portion open with the expectation that the deli will be open mid to late September. Currently, most of the products will be made at their offsite, central bakery in St. Paul. Eventually there will be some production done onsite in Hastings, but the majority of it will still take place in their St. Paul facility. The St. Paul facility does most of the production for all their stores in the area.
“We’ll produce certain things here, we’re not exactly sure what yet,” said Shogren. “We’re going to have a morning donut that we will fry up here and it will be a cinnamon sugar donut. You’ll be able to get them hot and fresh, like the state fair mini donuts. A lot of the other stuff will come in from our St. Paul facility which allows us to do this on a large scale. One of the big challenges for the local bakeries has been that there are very few people out there that are still bakers.”
Eric Shogren was born in the US. He met his wife Olga when she was an exchange student. Shogren’s brother was an exchange student studying in Russia. His brother’s studies piqued his interest in Russian culture, especially business. Shogren started conducting business in Russia, and after meeting Olga, they decided to work together in Russia which led to the relationship and a family. As the family grew, Olga expressed a desire to have their kids complete schooling in the US, so they moved back to Minnesota and started investing in business here.
“We decided to do what we did in Russia, which is get involved in community food service bakeries. We love neighborhood bakeries,” explained Shogren. “We started looking for the best bakeries and
talent and, we just keep finding great gems like this. That is really what it is. We just find these great gems of local bakeries that are part of a great community, and they need people to care about the bakery. Sometimes some of those old businesses that are generational, it gets to the point that their family has been in it for the four generations, sometimes the fifth one doesn’t want to do it anymore. That is when we get lucky. Those are really generous people to want to see the bakery succeed and pass it on to people who are going to do that. We’ve been really lucky to have some great partners. When I say partners, I mean people that pass their traditions on to us and hopefully we take care of them.”
Shogren added, “I’m a huge fan of the food service industry. We work quite a lot with some of the biggest players and people are amazing. But there’s a place for that superfast food and there is a place for being able to sit with your neighbors and talk about the Vikings or talk about the Minnesota Wild or politics. The public space where people gather and share with each other that is Emily’s.”
Aside from a community gathering space, Shogren says he will have the best coffee, “You are going find that when I say our coffee is amazing, I mean, well, it’s awesome to drink our coffee. It’s from Intelligentsia, which comes out of a company in Chicago. It’s amazing coffee.”
Their breakfast sandwiches are sure to please as well. Shogren offered a sample of a flaky croissant type sandwich that had sausage, egg and cheese stuffed inside and it was delicious buttery, flaky, filling but not heavy. If the bakery goods are any indication of the quality of the deli items that are yet to come, Hastings is going to be very happy.
The hourlong conversation with Shogren was interrupted multiple times, guests saying thank you or asking questions, a sudden rush of customers, friends that frequent other Wuollet Bakery locations, family, it did not matter, Shogren was busy talking to them all. It was clear that Eric and Olga have a love for people first. The interactions witnessed in that hour says this will be a good fit for Hastings and a good replacement for a centurylong staple in the community Emily’s is gone, but Wuollet Bakery looks to continue what Emily’s meant to the community, a place where people gather for high quality, delicious baked goods and even better company.