Q&A with Danny Klecko, CEO of Saint Agnes Baking Co.
Posted: 05/29/2013 12:01:00 AM CDT
Updated: 05/29/2013 09:53:55 AM CDT
Occupation: CEO of Saint Agnes Baking Co. (644 Olive St., St. Paul; 651-290-7633; saintagnesbaking.com)
When you were little, what did you want to be when you grew up? I always wanted to be a baker. If you look at my Dr. Seuss "My Book About Me" book, it asked what you wanted to be when you grew up, and I put baker. I liked the nocturnal factor. Knowing you could have a job and stay awake all night was appealing to me. And being Polish, to us, bread is everything. I've always been inspired by bread more than anything.
What's your first food memory? Eating black breads at Blackey's Bakery (in Northeast Minneapolis, now closed). When I was growing up, we didn't have a lot of money, so we didn't get a lot of treats, but when we got that black bread from Blackey's, that was a real treat.
What was your first job in food? I worked my way through restaurants as a dishwasher at Byerly's, Country Kitchen. My first actual baking job was 30 years ago. I worked for Pam Sherman (co-founder of New French Cafe) at her Southtown plant. She had half a dozen or more different bakeries, but the plant started in Bloomington.
How did you wind up in the baking business for good? I went to Dunwoody. They used to have the second-best baking school in America. From there I worked at Super Mom's, where I watched the bread lines. That's how I got my big start.
How much of your day do you spend baking?
It depends what day it is and what part of the month it is. I would say 15 percent of my time is spent actually baking. When I'm doing that, it's almost always research and development for new products.
What's your favorite bread to bake? For the first couple of decades, it used to be sourdough. But I've been making hand-dipped pretzel breads for the past few years, and that has taken over. I make them in a baguette form. I use gloves and goggles and dip the bread in caustic soda (lye). Most of the pretzel breads you get are the variety that are dipped in baking soda. Those aren't the real deal.
What's something few people know about you? When people look at me -- I'm 6-foot-3 and 270 pounds -- they think I'm a thug, but I'm actually very sensitive. I'm a poet. I just released a book with former Pioneer Press columnist Mike Finley. I've emceed shows with St. Paul's Poet Laureate Carol Connolly.
What makes the perfect hamburger bun? Knowing where the hamburger bun is going to be served, how it's going to be prepared and what condiments are going to be on it. You have to start from there and create a specialty bun. At Saint Agnes, we believe that the person who creates the best hamburger bun runs the city. So you have to get in there and listen to the chefs and create a bun for them. We're mixing science and art.
How about brats? In some ways, those buns can be a little bit trickier because there are so many variants in sausages and dogs. When a person puts in an order, he uses generic terms, but we have to make sure we're listening closely so we can get it to a specific spec.
What's something in your career that you wish you had done differently? I set a course from the time I was young. My past seemed illogical, because in the late 1970s early '80s, only 12 percent of baked goods were breads. Everything was pastry back then, and people thought I was kind of an oddball. But I stuck it out, and it has been a fun journey. I don't regret a thing.
What's your favorite restaurant? I'm a breakfast guy. Day By Day on West Seventh (in St. Paul). I like the food. But I guess just as important, I think they have the nicest service staff in the Twin Cities.
If someone were to play you in a movie, who should it be? The young Danny Klecko would be Vin Diesel. The old Danny Klecko would be Christopher Walken.
What's next? I'm going to be the mayor of St. Paul. When this (baking career) is over with, I'm going to run Capitol City. I've been here, worked here, taught kids how to hit baseballs. I've coached HGRA baseball for 15 years now. I know everybody. I'm a St. Paul guy.
FYI: Saint Agnes Baking Co. is open to the public on the first Saturday of every month from 10 a.m. to noon at 644 Olive St., St. Paul. You can purchase bread there or at Minneapolis and St. Paul farmers' markets on Saturdays. June 1 is themed a "Fan Favorite Retail Event" during which the bakery will sell items its customers have been asking for, such as rhubarb scones, maple bacon monkey bread, lingonberry bars and pretzel brat buns.
-- Jess Fleming