Hangin’ With Klecko: His Continuing Education
Editor’s note: After 13 years of providing fresh buns, artisanal breads and pastries to the Twin Cities restaurant scene, Saint Agnes Baking Co. unexpectedly closed its doors earlier this year.
In the middle of the city, on the middle of a frozen lake, I stood with my wife as she assembled her kite amidst a crowd of like-minded enthusiasts. The venue was Lake Harriet and the event was the annual Winter Kite Flying Festival.
Thematic music blared over an impressive sound system, and slowly but surely kites of all shapes and sizes launched upwards towards the heavens. As I looked at my wife, I couldn’t help but smile. This was her favorite moment of the year and from the look in her eyes, I could tell she was determined keep me out in the cold all day.
To our left was a gentleman from Duluth who had driven down to run a test flight with his new 30-foot whale kite he had picked up in New Zealand.
The atmosphere was festive. Hundreds of people sharing a space, and no one seemed to mind when their rigs got tangled with their neighbor’s.
As my wife attached the tail to her new Bora 7, I stared upward at kites in the shape of cats, Teddy bears and an impressive array of dancing squids.
The wind was blowing from the northwest at 17 miles per hours and these ideal weather conditions helped to contribute to a hypnotic silence that seemed to lull most of us into a state of enchantment since most of the kites were able to get high enough to employ a full length a string.
At the moment my wife was about to launch, she turned to me and asked: “Since the bakery has shut down, your phone isn’t ringing all the time. Are you relieved you’re getting a break from fixing other people’s problems? Now you’ll finally have some time to focus on yourself.”
I thought about that for a few moments, before setting the kite down.
Tears began flowing and I felt uncomfortable because I’ve always felt uncomfortable crying and I began to feel embarrassed because I didn’t want my emotions to get out of control in public.
Immediately my wife dropped her line and told me she was so sorry for making me sad.
Once I regained my composure by stuffing my emotions into submission, I smiled while wiping away the tears and explained: “I’m not crying because I’m sad, I’m just feeling overwhelmed. I work in a tough business, (and) for over 30 years I’ve been able to dance in a mine field without having to hear ka-boom.”
My wife laughed as I continued: “I can’t tell you how much I’ve learned from being humbled. So many people have stepped forward to encourage me to not only get back on track, but to become a better Klecko.”
Eric Shogren from A Bakers Wife took me out for coffee and reminded me of the peaks and valleys of working in hospitality. He built a baking empire in Russia but when things changed politically over there, he lost most of it, only to reclaim it later. I’m pretty sure now he’s doing better than ever.
Maurizo Tava, the mechanic from Mega-Tek, took a day off work so he could be with my crew on their last day of production. Before he left he hugged the bakers and cried.
David Fhima sent me words of encouragement, that meant everything to me, and Kieran Folliard stopped by to give us a bottle of something that made us feel better.
The list was too long to rattle off, and I didn’t want to spoil my wife’s favorite day of the year so I told her to get her kite up in the air, and she indicated she would, eventually, but before she did, she thought it was a good idea to just hold my hand awhile and stare into the sky.
As we stood quietly, my mind began to wander. I hadn’t slept much in several weeks so in some ways it was hard to find a tipping point between surreal and what was to become my new normal. That’s when I drifted into a daydream or a flashback of a spectacular moment that happened several days after I pulled the plug and production ceased.
I was standing alone in the bakery, feeling a bit shell-shocked, when in stepped my mentor Pete Nowicki. Many of you know him as the guy who launched SuperMom’s toward greatness for many years, but for me, he was much more. He was a second father.
As a young man I worked very hard for his approval, and I guess if I’m honest, I still do.
At Pete’s side strolled John Lupo. For those of you who are ignorant to the Twin Cities baking hierarchy, Mr. Lupo is the genius who has run Grandma’s Bakery for longer than he’d probably like to remember. Statewide, he is the Godfather of Baking.
The two men stood next to me and for a long time nobody spoke. The silence was interrupted when my company’s controller (and this publication's former editor) Mike Mitchelson entered.
I made a round of introductions and was proud to report how Mike had been one of the biggest reasons our company had experienced recent success. Since coming aboard four years ago, our sales had gone up 36 percent. There was no coincidence attached to that growth. Mitchelson is a bright man.
When the introduction was over, silence returned as my guests glanced and surveyed my former workspace.
Finally, Nowicki broke the silence: “When I heard the news, my heart sank. I realized how this was going to impact the Twin Cities. I’m just here today to remind you that I love you, and there is an answer. You’re a good guy and I know you’re going to figure this out.”
Then for the first time Mr. Lupo, the Godfather himself began to speak: “You know, the answer is really quite simple. All you have to do to get this bread line back up and running is ...”
At that point my wife shook me and told me to snap out of it and look up. Her kite was climbing and her face possessed a smile that put peace back into my heart.
Merriment had returned.
To all of you, thanks for the love and support.