Bernie Coulombe's bakery career began with falling in love. She with the bakery, her husband with her. Each one was smitten the moment they laid eyes on the object of their desire.
"But you don't want to write that in that magazine," says Coulombe. She's demure about it, and her husband, Don Coulombe, who took over the bakery 43 years ago and hired Bernie that same year, has passed on. Now it's just her and the bakery, her one true love.
"I love it. I was meant to be a baker. I start at 1 a.m. and open at 5 a.m. and stay until my girl comes in."
She's run the place more or less solo for the past nine years after Don died, and aside from the cashier duties that she entrusts to her one employee, she's solely responsible for the donuts, the cookies, the breads, the rusk.
Don was a Navy baker and his parents were bakers, too. After a career at McGlynn's, a longtime Minnesota corporate bakery that was founded in 1919, he knew he wanted a small bakery of his own. He bought Lindstrom Bakery in 1973, though it was there for a "long, long time" before he took it on.
How long? Bernie isn't sure, though it's pictured in an old book about the town of Lindstrom in a photo dated 1920.
However, their recipe claims to fame belong to her and Don alone, she says.
If you've never been to Lindstrom, you should know that everything is Swedish this, and Scandinavian that. (The street signage sports umlauts).
My family has owned a cabin in the area for more than 60 years, and for the past 42 of those (every year I've been alive), I know that I've arrived in the lake country of Lindstrom when everything becomes awash in Swedish blue and Dalecarlian horses. To this day, I have a Pavlovian response to both. They mean lake swimming, bonfires, marshmallows, fishing, and your grandparents' love. And donuts.
Along with the Dairy Queen that has occupied Highway 8 since the beginning of time, the towering yellow Lindstrom Bakery sign advertising the Scandinavian Donut also announces that you have arrived.
The donuts are are a cake version that's gone crunchy on the outside and soft within, and come in four iterations: plain, chocolate drizzle, cinnamon sugar, and honey. If a crunchy donut sounds odd, know that this was voted one of America's best donuts by Saveur, one of the fanciest food magazines in all the land. (That is, if you don't want to take our word for it). It's delicious.
Also keep an eye out for the Scandinavian wheat bread, which makes use of both cracked and whole wheat, and the raisin oatmeal cookies, another recipe they created in tandem back in '73.
But the real draw are ginger snaps and cinnamon toast, otherwise known as rusk (a hard, dry, twice-baked cross between a cookie and a bread that you probably know if you're of a certain age having grown up near any Minnesota Scandihoovian holiday tables).
"If I quit making those two, I might as well lock my doors," says Bernie, who says she's got an address book "yay thick" of snowbirds who call from all over the country in need of shipments of both precious commodities. And no, you cannot order yours online. "I don't even know how to turn on a computer," she says.
The interior of the bakery is something of a time capsule in itself, all wood paneling, wall clocks, old-school pastry cases, and yes, Dalecarlian horses.
Though she doesn't entrust anyone with the fryers and ovens but her own capable hands, Bernie says she doesn't push herself quite as hard as she once did.
"I've realized that the work isn't going anywhere. It will always be there the next day, waiting."
12830 Lake Blvd., Lindstrom
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