Wuollet Bakery changes hands but stays true to original winning formula.
Even if you’ve never visited the Wuollet Bakery right off 50th and France, odds are you’ve sampled their baked goods, whether you knew it or not. From the towering fruitcakes of Christmastime to the iconic pistachio-green fondant of the Princess Torte taking center stage at birthdays, Wuollet has been serving Edina and surrounding neighborhoods since 1944.
Now under new ownership, the third-generation, family-run bakeshop and brand is entering its next chapter. “We’re going to start harkening back to the way bakeries were historically run,” says new owner and Edina resident Eric Shogren.
“From the days when we were kids, our mothers would come to Wuollet Bakery; they picked up a loaf of bread, maybe a dozen cookies, made each kid a sandwich or two to take to school, and maybe threw a cookie in there too.” Cultures change, Shogren concedes, but Wuollet will be there with its fresh baked breads and from-scratch confections for the new generation of Edina resident.
“We’re not going to try to change what Wuollet is, we’re going to accentuate what Wuollet is,” Shogren says. “For the most part, we still make all our stuff from scratch. We’re using real butter, we’re making our own jams, our own fillings, and that’s something we pride ourselves on and something we find important.”
This isn’t Shogren’s first foray into local bakeshops. In 2016, Shogren and his wife Olga bought Minneapolis favorite A Baker’s Wife after the founder made the decision to retire. “Baker’s Wife is a classic bakery where it’s also a neighborhood gathering space,” Shogren says. “People come in in the morning to get their donut, their Danish, their cookies, whatever. It becomes kind of a ritual almost, where people come in a couple times a week. And there’s some who stop in every day. It’s a routine for people.”
For Shogren and his family, Wuollet Bakery has similar local roots. But in the case of the Edina shop, its reach extends beyond the immediate neighborhood. “Wuollet is a chain of bakeries with a 75-year history, which does much more than just serve as a community bakery.”
With its European tortes and custom-order cakes, Wuollet has been there for birthdays, weddings, celebrations and holidays. “That’s a significant part of Wuollet’s connection with people, it’s not just being around on a daily basis but being there for special events,” says Shogren. “There’s been families that are in their third, we believe even the fourth, generation of weddings now. We’ve got a few people that are looking for pictures of their great-grandparents’ wedding cake.”
Thoughts of retirement did cause the Wuollet family to consider selling, but that doesn’t mean all the Wuollets have left the kitchen. “The late third generation of the business, one of them wanted to retire and that triggered the other to have to think, ‘Okay, what do we want to do?’”
Cousins Mike Jurmu and Doug Wuollet, whose grandfather founded the bakery, knew their children didn’t necessarily want to work in the company for the next 50 years like they had. “They wanted to see the brand live on,” Shogren says, adding that many family members still work in the company. “When I bought it there were still, I think it was 10 family members still involved with the business in some capacity. And to this day, only some of them have retired.”
The Wuollet family’s connection to Shogren goes back a ways. Before moving back to Minnesota, Shogren was living in Russia and building a chain of bakeries, called Kuzina. “About 15 years ago I brought some of my Russian bakers here to be trained. And the Wuollet family was nice enough to let them train at Wuollet Bakery.”
Shogren kept in contact over the years. He says, “It wasn’t so important for them to sell or me to buy, what was more important was for us to come together to see how this business can continue to succeed.”
In taking over the business, Shogren has also brought some elements of his Kuzina bakeries to Minnesota with him. “Wuollet has always sold Russian tea cookies, but we’re taking it up a notch. People love our peanut brittle, they love our Russian tea cookies and our button cookies, why not sell them year-round?”
Those aren’t the only old-world fare making a comeback. “I think you will see us return to making more traditional European tortes. In the old days, Wuollet made a lot more varieties of European torte; we’ll return to that. What we’ll probably do is you’ll see us increasingly return Wuollet to some of its roots.”
For Shogren, bringing back tradition doesn’t have to come at the cost of excluding current trends. “In the last few years we’ve seen an incredible drive in the coffee and drink business, which means we’re going to be enhancing and increasing the quality of our coffee program, because it goes hand-and-hand with our baked goods. That’s something that’s just evolved over time. My grandparents would have had black coffee and my kids are going to have a cappuccino. It’s just the way it goes.”
Shogren’s vision for Wuollet includes making it more of a meet-up space like the bakeries of old. That plan includes selling fresh, warm donuts in the morning; opening up the 50th and France location to more seating; lowering the prices of key daily products like donuts to make them more accessible to more people.
Annie Hall, who had been working the counter over the entire course of our interview, is in the best position to attest to Wuollet’s place in the community. She’s worked at the bakery for 15 years and says that the best part of her position is how people from the whole Twin Cities come to the bakery, either through the doors or over the phone. “A lot of kids come to this location too,” she says with a smile.
There’s something undeniably special about bringing a kid into a bakery. “Imagine a kid, a couple feet tall, coming into a bakery and looking at those windows and seeing all that wonderful stuff,” Shogren says. “That’s the kind of stuff you remember. I’m not trying to be sentimental, but I think we all are to a certain extent. One of the things I remember is my dad taking me to places like Wuollet, taking me to a bakery where I know exactly what I’m going to get.”