Andrej’s European Pastry was launched 15 years ago in Jan Gadzo’s home in Chisholm.
But as business grew, production of his Old World walnut potica was moved twice to bigger commercial kitchens on the Iron Range.
And now production has moved again.
This year, the company partnered with Tobies Bakery in Hinckley to make the gourmet pastry. Since spring, Tobies has done the baking, allowing for increased production to supply Andrej’s growing customer base in the Twin Cities.
Andrej’s continues to be based in Chisholm, however, where Gadzo shares ownership with his wife, Jean.
Potica (pronounced Po-TEE-tsa) is a traditional Czechoslovakian nut roll that’s served sliced during the Christmas holiday.
“Potica is such a special treat,” Gadzo said. “It was literally made only once a year.”
Andrej’s potica, named after Gadzo’s father and son, is Slovakian, made from a family recipe. The speciality bakery also offers a poppy seed potica that also was a family tradition.
“Sales go through the roof during Christmas time,” Gadzo said. “But people in the metro area are more up to buying it year-round.”
The growth in business in the Twin Cities area is reflecting that.
The gourmet pastry, made with raised sweet dough and natural, preservative-free ingredients, now is available in the bakery sections of more than 40 Twin Cities-area stores, including 25 Lunds and Byerly’s stores and several natural food cooperatives. The list recently got longer when eight Kowalski’s Markets and three Lakewinds Natural Foods stores started carrying them.
In the Northland they’re available at Super One Foods stores, as well as Mount Royal Fine Foods in Duluth, typically selling for $11.99 or $12.99 a roll. All totaled, more than 60 grocery stores carry Andrej’s potica.
For Tobies, taking on the making of Andrej’s potica is a good fit.
“Our busy season is in the summer months; this is our slack time,” said Chris Hickle, who owns Tobies with his parents. “’But this is (Gadzo’s) busy time. The holidays are the big time for his product - Thanksgiving, Christmas, Easter -so it’s good for both of us.”
Tobies has been selling Andrej’s potica at its restaurant and retail bakery for 15 years, along with other Minnesota-made products, such as jams, jellies and pickles.
But until now, Tobies bakery only produced for its own retail bakery store, which is part of the popular restaurant just off the Interstate 35 Hinckley exit. They’ve hired a few more bakery employees to handle the added workload to make the potica, Hickle said.
They now make about 200 potica rolls several days a week.
“We’ve got it all ironed out now,” Hickle said of the procedure. “In the beginning he (Gadzo) had to teach us how to make them. Now that process is figured out, so we don’t have to spend as much time on them.”
The business is all about Gadzo’s heritage and memories of growing up in Slovakia in Central Europe, where the making of potica was an annual ritual down to the gathering, peeling and drying of the walnuts.
“This is so dear to me,” he said.
But in 1969, a year after the Soviet Union invaded Czechoslovakia, he fled his country. As a young anti-Communist, it was either that or face being jailed. He immigrated to the United States, where he became an engineer, married and ended up in Chisholm.
“I love northern Minnesota because it reminds me so much of Slovakia,” Gadzo said.
Moreover, there were many Slovenians on the Iron Range.
Gadzo and his wife started making potica in the early 1980s for family and friends using his mother’s recipe. In time, they started selling the potica on a small scale. It wasn’t until they built an addition to their home for the baking in 1999 that the business was incorporated. They soon had to move to a bigger commercial kitchen in Chisholm. In 2007, they moved production to an even bigger facility in Aurora before the move to Tobies this year.
No slowing down
Production has grown from a holiday-only yield of 2,000 potica loaves to year-round production of 16,000 last year. Since September, 8,000 loaves have been made at Tobies, Gadzo said.
Now 65, he said the production’s move to Hinckley in no way reflects a retirement or semi-retirement on his part.
“I am potica,” he said firmly. “I love this so much. We started almost 30 years ago. When I’m going to give it up is when I’m going to be six feet under.”
He visits the Tobies Bakery regularly, checking on the operation and picking up products for his online sales and for deliveries in northern Minnesota. A distribution service handles the shipments to the Twin Cities, Wisconsin, Illinois, the Dakotas and Michigan.
“I do everything,” Gadzo said. “I’m still working full time.”