Sun Street Breads making Minneapolis a baking Mecca

Nicollet Avenue bakery uses ingredients like house-made granola and locally brewed beer

Peek through the windows of Sun Street Breads any time between two in the morning and two in the afternoon and there's a good chance you'll catch the kerchief-covered proprietress, Solveig Tofte, measuring flour by the bus tub and dumping it into a mixer nearly as big as a Jacuzzi. All through the night and into the early hours, Tofte works her way through a methodical routine. There is dough to be portioned with a plastic scraper, weighed on a digital scale, and shaped. There are scones to be brushed with egg wash and kolache to be filled with poppy seed cream. By the time the shop opens at 6:30 a.m., the last of the cinnamon rolls are just being tossed in sugar, a flock of chickens taking a dust bath.

The bakery's massive ovens display the morning's loaves as if they're jewels in a case. Bright light bulbs create dramatic shadows across the crust's terrain, making each slash look as deep as a canyon. An employee of the neighboring Caribou Coffee bypasses the pastries at her own shop and treats herself to one of Tofte's famous scones. Around 7, a customer requests a loaf of Lunch Box bread, which Tofte pulls straight from the oven. "It's very warm," the woman at the register warns the man, as she slides the loaf into a paper sack. "One-hundred ninety degrees Celsius, to be exact," Tofte adds.

A quick look at Minneapolis's riverfront ruins and you'd think we'd let our city's proud heritage slip away: A relic that was once the world's largest flour mill is now a museum devoted to its history. But a few patient, nocturnal souls like Tofte are building on our city's grain-processing legacy and turning Minneapolis into a veritable baking mecca.

The baker's goal is "to squeeze as much flavor out of the grain as possible," Solveig Tofte says
Emily Utne
The baker's goal is "to squeeze as much flavor out of the grain as possible," Solveig Tofte says
Emily Utne

Location Info


Sun Street Breads

4600 Nicollet Ave.
Minneapolis, MN 55419

Category: Restaurant > Bakery

Region: Southwest Minneapolis


Sun Street Breads
4600 Nicollet Ave., Minneapolis
Bakery items $1-$9

Tofte spent a decade as the head baker for Turtle Bread, which helped establish the city's reputation for the craft, along with places like Rustica, Salty Tart, and, most recently, Patisserie 46. After a test run with a farmers' market stand last summer, Tofte launched a permanent Sun Street with her husband, Martin Ouimet, and named the bakery after a literal translation of her first name in Norwegian (the multitalented Tofte once studied weaving at a Norwegian folk school). True to its title, Sun Street, which sits on a corner of 46th and Nicollet, is a cheery, gleaming space with windows on three sides. The bakery possesses a few artsy touches—pretty handmade tiles on one wall and a colorful, child-pleasing mural on another—but its most salient feature is a spare, open floor plan that offers a direct sightline to the baking operations.

The new business partnership has helped the Tofte/Ouimet family synch up its unconventional schedules. "I go to bed before our six-year-old," Tofte notes. "That's not the case in most households." Ouimet, a onetime web designer who now runs Sun Street's front of the house, is a patient man who will go above and beyond his duties to, say, pick up a tantrum-throwing child's tossed books and crayons. (Customers, in turn, return the hospitality. One day, a small boy arrived at the shop with a fistful of dandelions he'd picked for Ouimet and the Sun Street staff.) When the bakery opens on the weekends, Ouimet will likely arrive with his and Tofte's daughter, who can sometimes be spotted perched on a pile of 50-pound flour sacks, poring over a comic book.

As the morning sun rises higher, Tofte pulls out a tray of rising baguettes and prepares them for the oven. She has a special relationship with France's most iconic loaf, as she was one of three bakers chosen to represent the United States at the 2008 Coupe du Monde de la Boulangerie in Paris, a.k.a. the World Cup of bread and pastry. At the competition, Tofte made 50 identical baguettes, along with five other types of bread, to be assessed by a panel of judges. Her loaves helped Team USA secure an impressive fourth-place showing.

After the international competition, Tofte says, she's been thinking a lot about what it means to be an American baker and how she can take European traditions and mark them with her own vernacular stamp. Following the lead of other regional bakers working with local ingredients, such as mesquite flour and even Coca-Cola, Tofte has been incorporating everything from her house-made granola to beer from Minneapolis-based Harriet Brewing into her loaves. Sun Street's breads are also preservative-free and a good vehicle for whole-grain consumption, proving that wheat bread doesn't have to taste like sawdust and rye loaves need not be dense as bricks.

Part of the secret to Sun Street loaves' nuanced flavors and textures are Tofte's pre-ferments, concoctions of flour, water, and commercial or wild yeast that typically sit and bubble for 12 to 16 hours before being incorporated into a dough. "Any bread baker's goal is to squeeze as much flavor out of the grain as possible," Tofte explains. Sure, her Lunch Box loaf is twice the price of its supermarket kin, but it's a muscular specimen, with substantial heft and nutty flavor, and a sponginess that won't tear under the pressure of a butter-loaded knife.

Next Page »