Freedom and the Sugar Doughnut

Mel-O-Glaze Bakery
4800 28th Ave. S., Mpls.; (612) 729-9316
Hours: 6:00 a.m.-6:00 p.m. daily

A single gold nugget supposedly has the power to drive you crazy, dazzling the soul with its promise of wealth and maddening with its implication that the mother lode might be lost or never found. But in south Minneapolis, something else can drive people to fits of gold-bug fever: One bite of a hot, heavenly, handmade Mel-O-Glaze doughnut--sizzling in its paper, warm like a living thing and sweet as childhood--sparks atavistic fires of delight and greed deep in the belly. One glance at the priceless Minnehaha Creek frontage, and folks start dreaming up schemes of kilim rugs, polished hardwoods, and three-dollar espresso drinks.

"Everyone's always telling us, 'You've got a gold mine here,'" says Paulette Bosela, daughter of longtime Mel-O-Glaze owners Ed Bosela and Frances Wood. "'You could make a million dollars.' Well, what if nobody here wants to make a million dollars?"

"Last winter we just felt like closing for two months, so we did. Nobody knows how to just live any more. We give out doughnut holes to children, and the other day a man was pointing out to his daughter: 'See how well their marketing technique works?'" She shudders. "And I'm just appalled--it's not a marketing technique. We just like children, if you can imagine such a bizarre concept. It started just because my Aunt Beth liked to give things to children."

Actually, it might have started with Wood, who hitched her life to Mel-O-Glaze when she and her husband bought the bakery where Ed had long been foreman. (Legend has it that he once told the owner, who had a penchant for dice and drink: 'One day I'm going to own this place.' 'Yeah, right, kid,' said the owner. On April Fool's Day 1961, Bosela walked in as the new proprietor and told the boss he was fired. But the old guy didn't believe him, so he stayed on as manager.) For almost four decades since, Mel-O-Glaze has been home to a collection of characters so idiosyncratic, they don't just march to the beat of a different drummer--they might inspire drummers everywhere to question established beats and received wisdom.

Wood, now 75, met Bosela in wartime San Francisco. He was a Marine; she sang in clubs at night and managed an office during the day. When they got married and moved to St. Paul (Wood's home town) in 1945, Wood saw no sense in dropping what she considered "a perfectly good last name: I am who I am, and Ed liked his name, so we each kept our own."

But in pre-Nixon Minnesota, that wasn't an easy proposition. Whenever the couple bought or sold a house, they had to do battle with banks and attorneys, and Wood says she was fired from a job because her (female) boss resented her refusal to become Mrs. Bosela. Yet she never tired of the fight: "I don't think it's stubborn. I believe if you have a set of beliefs in something and a philosophy, you stick by it." Wood delivers that line in a soft, sweet, dead-even and rock-hard voice, her grandmotherly eyes twinkling.

"Actually, here's a funny story," chimes in Ky Michaelson, one of the bakery's most devoted regulars and an employee from 1954 to 1967. "One time she got a Christmas present from one of the salesmen. It was all wrapped and addressed to Mrs. Bosela. It just sat up there on a rack for months and months, and finally I said, 'Hey, Frances, aren't you going to open your Christmas present?' She said,"--he and Paulette Bosela deliver the punch line in unison--"'That's for Mrs. Bosela, Ed's mother back in Ohio!'"

Michaelson, age 61, has been a part of the Mel-O-Glaze experience since he was a 15-year-old apprentice baker, and today he boasts a résumé like some kind of Jackie Collins novel hero: stuntman, inventor, motorcycle racer, homemaker. Michaelson is the sort of independent character who fits perfectly into the unpretentious cluster of tables and chairs at the back of Mel-O-Glaze, devouring slices of the signature brown-sugar apple pie ($1.50 a slice, $8 a pie) while spinning tales from the kitchen.

Like the time he helped bake more than 1,000 loaves of 17-cent-a-loaf bread, and a blizzard kept all the customers away. Or the day when a mixing accident had him quietly dumping buckets of flour into Minnehaha Creek. About the neighborhood houses built in the postwar boom of big plans and tight finances, when people would dig the foundation, throw up a flat, temporary roof, and live in the basement while they saved money to erect the rest of the dwelling. Oh, and the time a Mel-O-Glaze manager drove the counter girl with whom he was having an affair down to the airport to see the king of Sweden--and the two of them and the big Mel-O-Glaze truck were pictured on the front of the Minneapolis Star, and the wife came in and picked up the paper right in the front of the bakery...or was that the king of Norway? And wasn't her name Inga?

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