Based in the small town of White Bear Lake, Minnesota, just outside of the Twin Cities, is Grandma’s Bakery – a family-run operation that hasn’t changed much in 37 years. While change can be a good thing, John Lupo, founder and president of Grandma’s Bakery, says there’s something to be said about doing things the old-fashioned way, with great care and dedication.
Over the years the company has grown, embracing new facilities and equipment, but Lupo says Grandma’s Bakery holds fast to tradition. “In the case of Grandma’s Bakery, what’s old is new again because we’re still doing things the old-fashioned way; the way I grew up on,” he says. This means baking up family favorites from scratch – doughnuts, cakes, cookies, breads, buns, pies, a range of featured holiday items; some 500 different baked goods and sweet treats in all.
Baking up a success story
The Lupo family opened the bakery doors on a hot summer day in July 1978. “My dad was my investor and he helped put up some of the money for me to reopen what was a boarded-up doughnut shop,” recounts Lupo.
The first few years were difficult, but from the beginning, Lupo ran the day-to-day operations, working hard to become the best baker in town. “We eventually added cakes, cookies, rolls and breads to the bakery lineup and the business began to grow,” he shares.
In December 1980, the family remodeled the store, changing the name to Grandma’s Bakery to reflect the wide range of products available. It was then that the bakery also started to deliver products to wholesale accounts in the Twin City area.
“Our first wholesale order was a delivery of one dozen doughnuts to a local hotel,” recalls Lupo. “What started as one dozen quickly grew to 10 dozen and the word spread to other hotels and convenience stores in the area. By the mid ‘80s we had three morning delivery routes all over the Twin City area.”
The wholesale and cake decorating side of the business steadily grew as well. “We were running out of space and began to search for a new building in the area,” says Lupo. “I studied and tried to perfect my craft, working with some of the best bakers in the country through the Retail Bakers of America.”
In 1989, Lupo achieved his long sought-after dream, becoming a Certified Master Baker; the highest level of certification from the Retail Bakers of America.
Open design and open arms
In 1991, Lupo found the space for Grandma’s Bakery to grow in White Bear Lake, where the company designed a 19,000-square-foot state-of-the-art, open-kitchen facility, three times the size of the first location. “We moved in just before Thanksgiving and business began to grow very quickly,” says Lupo.
In just a few years the bakery was breaking ground on the first of three additions to the facility on Buerkle Road. “We added a large warehouse and freezer as business continued to grow,” says Lupo. “In 2003, we added space for more ovens and a larger packaging area.”
The most unique part of the production facility is the open-concept design. “When you walk into the retail area there are no walls – you can see into the whole operation, right into the heart of our factory,” explains Lupo. “Customers love this open concept because everything is in clear view. They can see our decorators at work and mixing operations. It’s a little bit of theatrics but people like to see where and how their food is produced. And, it forces us to be extremely clean, something we take great pride in.”
After such success at the main shop, Grandma’s Bakery opened a coffee shop in downtown White Lake in 2008. “Our coffee shop downtown is just the way a Main Street American bakery would be 50 years ago,” says Lupo. “We sell our baked goods, as well as 100 varieties of vintage soda we import from all over. It’s a fun step back for people and I think our customers really appreciate that.”
With more than 125 employees across both locations, Lupo says there isn’t much the bakery can’t tackle. “We’re really excel in large corporate accounts; we can do a breakfast for 10,000 people, no problem,” he says.
“We do the things other bakeries don’t necessarily want to do,” adds Lupo. “In 2006, we made a 4,116-pound cake to feed 94,848 people for the Minnesota State Lottery. The cake covered almost 700 square feet. They gave us the drawing for the cake on a napkin and we took it and ran with it. If you have something on your mind, we can take care of it.”
With larger players in the area such as Sam’s Club and Costco, Lupo says family-owned bakeries are becoming sort of dinosaurs. “Custom bakeries like us just aren’t around anymore,” he says. “We’re still here because we do what we do very well and it’s often hard work. We’re here every day of the year, except Christmas.”
Family dedication, a passion for doing things the old-fashioned way and a lot of elbow grease have allowed Grandma’s Bakery to not only withstand the test of time but to prosper in the Twin Cities.