How sweet it is: Pine River Bakery makes 'Sweetest Bakery in America' list
The Pine River Bakery is on a sweet short list. The bakery is one of the top 10 on the leaderboard of the Sweetest Bakery in America Contest and the only bakery in Minnesota to make the list. "It just kind of started off as a little contest," sai...
The Pine River Bakery is on a sweet short list.
The bakery is one of the top 10 on the leaderboard of the Sweetest Bakery in America Contest and the only bakery in Minnesota to make the list.
"It just kind of started off as a little contest," said John Sigafus, who owns and operates the bakery with his wife Julie. Sigafus said they didn't expect to go this far and were pleasantly surprised to get the call they made the top 10 list.
It all started when snow was still covering the ground and they attended a food show in St. Cloud. A bakery provider suggested they enter the contest.
"He said, 'you probably won't win because you are such a small bakery,'" Sigafus said. But they put up the contest posters in their bakery and Sigafus said his wife got the word out on Facebook. Friends told friends. Soon they were getting votes from Australia, London, and Paris.
"We did it to get national recognition for the area to boost the economy and never thought it would go this far," Sigafus said. "It kind of took off. We are hoping we can go a little further up the list."
As of Thursday, the bakery was ranked seventh, but it has fluctuated. Sigafus would like to at least be in the top five if not all the way to the top. But he said they are up against large bakeries. Their competitors hail from Pennsylvania, California, Michigan, New Jersey, Iowa and Texas.
Sigafus said they hope to gain more votes Friday, June 2, for National Doughnut Day. It's a day-the first Friday in June-when bakeries across the nation are offering discounts and specials, even free doughnuts, to mark the occasion. For example Tim Hortons will offer a free doughnut with the purchase of coffee at the mention of the day.
In Pine River, they're baking 1,000 cake doughnuts and offering a buy one get one sale. On a typical day, they bake 80 cake doughnuts. Sigafus said they are also passing out samples to area businesses Friday.
"Hopefully we'll generate more votes," he said. "People have to vote every day to keep us on the list."
Sigafus said thousands of bakeries across the nation were part of the contest. Some generated a handful of votes. The Pine River Bakery took off despite its small size in a small town in a state that boasts numerous bakeries.
"We're just a small-town bakery, a mom and pop bakery with three employees," Sigafus said. "It's crazy we are up against such large competition, but it's kind of fun in a way, too.
"Our hope was to get national recognition for the Brainerd lakes area and the fact we are a small town bakery up against the big boys."
The contest runs through July 31. People can vote one a day until 11:59 p.m. that day.
The prize is $500, the ability to be called the Sweetest Bakery in America and the contest sponsor will throw a party in the winning bakery. Dawn Foods is behind the contest.
For Sigafus, the party would be a celebration for the entire city and, well yes, icing on the cake.
"I don't know where we'd fit everyone in the little bakery," he said. "We'd probably have to rent a hall or something. But that's down the road. We are up against some pretty big bakeries in the U.S."
John and Julie Sigafus purchased the bakery three years ago. But it's roots in Pine River are much deeper. Through various ownerships, the bakery has been part of the community for some 60 years. Sigafus said it's been one of the city's anchors-along with the hardware store, a couple of gas stations and other shops-with people stopping in to tell them they came to Pine River just for the baked goods. "A lot of people, when they stop in, say they want to see the bakery," Sigafus said.
He said they are known for their apple fritters with big chunks of apple, for their cookies and gourmet doughnuts-like their maple raised doughnut with bacon, their Death by Chocolate doughnut and Paul Bunyan party doughnuts and a "sawdust" cinnamon roll where the sawdust is cinnamon, brown sugar, flour and some secret ingredients.
They enjoy being creative with items like a vampire-inspired doughnut at Halloween complete with vampire teeth.
"Kids love those," Sigafus said, noting another crowd pleaser is a cream-filled long John topped with an ice cream cone half that is filled with more frosting and covered in sprinkles. "We come up with all kinds of creations, it makes it more fun and different."
It's not a job Sigafus expected to have when he watched those Dunkin' Donuts commercials decades ago where the bakers would pass each other in pre-dawn darkness and say it was time to make the doughnuts. The 1980s commercial still lives on YouTube. His wife was the one with the baking experience-40 years worth.
"I came in as an auto mechanic," Sigafus said. "I had to learn the hard way."
They do everything by scratch. Their days start at 11:30 p.m. and continue all night until 2 p.m. the next day. They typically have an hour or maybe two if they stretch it off before they are asleep. Bedtime is 3 p.m. and their alarm goes off at 11 p.m. when the day starts all over again. It's a rough schedule by most measurements. Living a couple blocks from the bakery helps.
At one time 13 people worked in the bakery, Sigafus said. But it can be hard to find people who want to get up early and work a baker's hours. They hire high school kids and offer them scholarships for school to help make the work more attractive.
They thought of it as an early retirement when they saw the bakery was for sale and came from their home in Wisconsin to see it and Pine River. They liked what they saw and put their large home where they raised six children up for sale. Downsizing took a number of yard sales and donations. Now Sigafus thinks their other choice for an early retirement, a campground, would have been an easier work schedule.
"We figure another three or four years and then we'll pass it on to somebody else and then we'll make a job out of spoiling grandkids," he said. "That's our goal."
Sweetest Baker in America leaderboard
• Lochel's Bakery, Hatboro, Pa.
• Bagel Cafe & Bakery, Watsonville, Calif.
• Delly Belly Bakery, Coopersville, Mich.
• Carroll's Bakery, Spenser, Iowa
• Bit of Swiss Pastry Shoppe, Stevensville, Mich.
• Mueller's Bakery, Bay Head, N.J.
• Pine River Bakery, Pine River.
• Oakmont Bakery, Oakmont, Pa.
• Van Hemert's Dutch Oven Bakery, Boone, Iowa
• DeAyala's Bakery, Brownsville, Texas
For more information, go to www.sweetestbakeryinamerica.com