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Foodservice Writers: Dan “Klecko’ McGleno, Becca Ansari



The first time I interviewed Klecko more than a decade ago, I wouldn’t have taken him for poet. He was loomingly large in his white baker’s jacket and baggy shorts. He wore combat boots and liked to tell stories about his bountiful tattoos, including ones commemorating his Soviet baking experience. He was brash and a bit braggadocious, but in a charming way. We talked long past the content I needed for a story on Saint Agnes Baking Co., where he worked at the time. He told me about his “Gracie the circus dog,” and I told him about my attention-loving, smarter-than-a-human dog, Hank. Klecko decided he, too, was a Jack Russell and wanted one—then two—of his own. Having his own personal pack led to publishing a dog biscuit cookbook.

Like a cat with nine lives, Danny “Klecko” McGleno has invented and reinvented himself and then tweaked a bit more. He’s done stand-up comedy-magic shows with his friend, Brutus; coached Little League teams with and without a son on base; baked the bread his hero former President Ronald Regan and Soviet General Secretary Mikhail Gorbachev broke during their meeting in Minnesota in 1990; written columns for Foodservice News; and sequestered himself in what he refers to as his mansion a la F. Scott Fitzgerald in St. Paul. There was the red period, where he would send me photos of himself in a red room wearing a fur or baker’s hat, clutching a picture of the pope. And there was the blue period, when his career as the CEO and father figure at Saint Agnes came to an end on the eve of Super Bowl LII, when ICE told them  23 of his employees weren’t legal.

So it’s not surprising that  his latest book of poetry, “Hitman-Baker-Casketmaker: Aftermath of an American’s Clash with ICE,” is so compelling. But that McGleno employed poetry to speak out for the first time publicly about what happened at Saint Agnes Baking Co. when they closed their doors, seemingly overnight, is surprising.

“I stand by the Mexicans” (who make the employers’ lives easier and richer) is one theme connecting the poems. And in case you envision rhymes and “slapshtick,” you won’t find it in these 95 pages of elegant, soulful verse. The “Clash with ICE” is well worth a read, as are the poems about entertaining hit men in his mother’s kitchen, attending the fight of the century with his absentee father and baking cakes. 

A reference perfect for the foodservice audience was in one of the poems sharing the title “Tavern on Grand,” about the romantic mystery of a physically mismatched couple preparing walleye tacos. She was beautiful, he was not. McGleno’s observation: “Hairnets force us to look past vanity/And into the heart.” And if all of us were forced to woo in hairnets, he believes we’d all dig a bit deeper in our quest to find love. 

McGleno’s publisher is Julie Pfitzinger, who started boutique publishing company Paris Morning Publications in 2019. She selected McGleno’s book of poetry for the company’s debut title. “I have been familiar with Klecko’s work for many years—we first met when I was the editor of Saint Paul Magazine—and his voice is an important one,” she says. “I think Klecko would tell you, in his inimitable way, that what I saw in this collection was ‘genius’—and he wouldn’t be wrong. This is a smart and thoughtful collection of poems, which highlight a wide range of important eras of his life, including his formative years and, of course, the demise of Saint  Agnes Baking Co.” 

The book can be purchased at local independent bookstores, including SubText Books in downtown St. Paul, and on the website at parismorningpublications.com.

The many personalities of master baker Danny “Klecko” McGleno.

 

Write what you want to read

Rebecca Ansari may not be the face of Surly Brewing Co.—her husband, Omar Ansari is president of company they founded—but when they were starting out, she spent many an hour painting signs, writing descriptions of the beer, strategizing and working on the vision that would become both a dynamic brewery and a popular brewpub. 

While her husband worked full time in the beer business, Ansari was putting in long shifts as an emergency room doctor. One day, she says, they came to the realization that they were both working more and raising their four boys less. 

Surly, by that time—it was 2013—could support them both, so Omar suggested she “retire.” Ansari turned her back “on all that education,” and gave up her career as a doctor to stay home with their children and write full time. 

Rebecca Ansari receives her first shipment of her book, “The Missing Piece of Charlie O’Reilly.”

Her first middle-school novel, “The Missing Piece of Charlie O’Reilly,” has just hit stores, and her second one is under consideration by the publisher. 

Ansari says she reads regularly to her children and “The Missing Piece” is a book that she can imagine her own children pleading, “Please , mom, just one more chapter!” That thoughtful, captivation of children’s imagination is what drives her to the computer to write. 

The hero, Charlie O’Reilly, is an only child who has a brother no one has seen. His younger brother Liam has been missing for a year and no one, not his parents, not his best friend, Ana, remember him. Charlie and Ana find a note Liam has written and “they have no choice but to follow its instructions—even if doing so could mean that they, too, might disappear, unremembered, forever.”

The two go on a surreal voyage to find Liam, learning about forgiveness and what it means to sacrifice for family.

When asked if the book has any local references to Minneapolis or Surly, Ansari laughs as she responds, “It’s hard to put beer and a kids’ book together.” (Although there is a mention of wine.) There’s a reference to Minnesota as well.

Literature isn’t the only arts she and Surly support. Ansari is involved in the theater program at her children’s school, Breck, and is  on the board of the Jungle Theater. 

Her book is also available at independent bookstores and on Amazon. She held her book launch at Surly on March 9.

 

From TV screen to paper

And we’d be remiss if we didn’t add a quick endnote on Bizarre Foods host Andrew Zimmern’s children’s book, “AZ and the Lost City of Ophir: Alliance of World Explorers Volume One,” about a 12-year-old boy, AZ, who has a time-traveling mishap and finds himself in Ophir, a lost city full of secrets and cursed tombs. Find it on Amazon. 

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