Jud Bakery Supplies Kuchen to ND Wal-Marts

Kjelland, Bob. "Jud Bakery Supplies Kuchen to ND Wal-Marts." Union Farmer, April 2008, 10.

Maryln Kalmbach, owner of Mary's Bake Shoppe.

Wal-Marts are known for being packed with products that are made by low-cost labor in China. North Dakotans Wal-Mart shoppers can look forward to a taste of home, thanks to Maryln Kalmbach and her two-oven bakery in Jud.

Each week, Kalmbach makes from scratch and bakes enough kuchen to supply the demand for the the dessert pastry. “I bake on Mondays and Wednesdays. I deliver on Tuesdays and Thursdays.” Kalmbach bakes from 230 to 280 kuchens on average, during her baking days. She delivers these pastries to the Wal-Mart Supercenters in Fargo, Jamestown, Aberdeen, and two in Bismarck. She also supplies Marketplace Foods in Valley City.

Kuchen is the German word for cake. In reality (and on the table), kuchen looks like a pie whose fillings vary according to the seasons and overall demand. Fruit fillings are the most popular, says Kalmbach. Peach, blueberry, and apple lead in sales. Other fillings are cherry, rhubarb, raspberry, prune, dry curd, and chocolate chip. “I make pumpkin at Thanksgiving," she says. The fillings are supported by custard and sweet dough, and topped with cinnamon. She makes her own dough. All the ingredients come from products grown or produced in North Dakota. “I have had people leave messages saying ‘That's just like my grandmother’s’.”

Her kuchen baking skills come naturally. She remembers the days her grandma used to visit her home when she was growing up. “The minute you opened the door you could smell kuchen and knoephle soup.”

She began by baking kuchen for family events. “It’s all made from scratch; fresh, not frozen. No artificial flavors or preservatives,” she says. She makes each kuchen by hand using her aunt's recipe. “I learned how to make kuchen from my aunt. But she changed things and I’ve changed things,” she says of the recipe. Regardless, the final mix sells because it's good. So good that her husband Brad and others encouraged her to bake kuchens for a statewide market.

She initially took kuchen samples to the Wal-Mart in Fargo and asked to see the manager. As fate turned out, the Wal-Mart food merchandiser was there as well. They were impressed enough to consider stocking this product in the coolers in the Wal-Mart food departments. She says it took a year to get Wal-Mart to sign her on as a supplier.

For this enterprising effort, Mary’s Bake Shoppe was established in 2005 in Jud, a small community about 20 miles south of Jamestown.

Sales are steady year-round, dropping off slightly in January and February, and peaking in November and December. “I just started out with a regular oven. I could bake six, eight at a time.” Business has grown in terms of sales and production. Two big commercial ovens were purchased to meet demand. “I can bake 60 at a time; however, I normally do 40 because it is easier to manage.” Brad Kalmbach prepares the product labels and maintains the company's Web site (www.marysbakeshoppe.com).

Kalmbach is a member of Pride of Dakota, a program coordinated by the North Dakota Department of Agriculture. Pride of Dakota assists North Dakota companies that make products in North Dakota to develop advertising and marketing programs. Kalmbach says the Pride of Dakota program (www.prideofdakota.nd.gov) has been of immense value in getting Mary’s Bake Shoppe off to a successful start.

Sales have been good and “I could expand. Right now I have about all I can handle,” she says. For now, Kalmbach's sister, Paula, helps as her schedule allows. Any additional increase in production will require hiring someone to help in the kitchen. She is open to baking for others who might want to embrace the “Buy Fresh, Eat Local” concept promoted by Farmers Union youth programs. Kalmbach also bakes cheese cakes for weddings and other events.

“Without the encouragement of Brad and Paula and others, I might not have had the courage to do this.”

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